Language and globalization: the task of speaking English in rakuten
Rakuten, Japan’s largest online retailer, is rapidly expanding into global markets. To ensure the success of the organisation, and to break the linguistic and cultural boundaries of Japanese society, chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani has granted English proficiency to all staff in two years. Professor Tsedal Neeley discusses the ideas behind Mikitani’s mandate and the strong link between language and globalisation.
Brian Kenny: fifty-nine miles southwest of Baghdad, on the Euphrates river, is the site of the ancient mesopotamian city of Babylon. It is regarded as the world’s largest city in the 18th century and is the center of commerce and culture. As the bible says, the city was founded by the descendants of Noah, and in the years after the flood, the city was unified as a community, even speaking the same language. Together they made a great career, their ambitions are everywhere, so they decided to build a high tower can reach heaven as zigong, but it is not surprising that god has a different idea. With a powerful blow, he knocked down the tower and scattered the babylonians in the corners of the earth, making their dialects speak different languages.
Despite the bible lesson, it is interesting to see how different the world will be if we all speak the same language. Today we will hear from professor Tsedal Neeley about her case study of language and globalization: letian English. I’m your host, Brian Kenny. You’re listening to Cold Call.
Professor neely teaches MBA students and executives at harvard business school. Her research focuses on the challenges that global partners face when trying to work across borders and language boundaries. She is also the author of a new book, “global success: how languages change transnational organizations”. That’s really the core of what we’re going to talk about today. Tsedal, thank you for joining me.
Tsedal Neeley: thank you for inviting me.
Kenny: it’s great that you’re back on the podcast. I want to get into the idea in the book, and case, because they overlap a lot, but I will ask you, is just the beginning I always requires teachers to do things, tell us who is the protagonist who is and their ideas.
Neeley: great. The case is dominated by Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive of Japan’s largest online retailer. He developed a single language for the entire organization to rapidly globalize and then panic. Did he get it right? He told them they had two years to complete the language proficiency test or face a downgrade. Is that right? Will he have to downgrade everyone? This is a huge, publicly visible strategy that he has made. What does he do now?
Kenny: how do you know what he’s doing?
Neeley: it’s interesting because my work started 15 years ago at Stanford and has been focusing on language and globalization, so soon we found each other. Soon after he did this, he wanted to get some inspiration from me, and I wanted a case study. It was a game in the sky.
Kenny: British culture is hard to say. Is this a real word?
“Mark valley called Japan’s BILL GATES (BILL GATES) and JEFF BEZOS (JEFF BEZOS), because of his vision to understand what the technology can do for the business, his fearless in decision-making.
Neeley: it’s a real word that he created and registered trademark. In a sense, this is a difficult word. I’ve been hearing it all the time, as you’ve been through, but the word in a sense illustrates the transition to English, how an organization can experience this transition. Ultimately, this is a global strategy.
Kenny: when I saw this case, the first thing I thought about was, “why English? Why not Chinese?” We have always heard that we should all learn to speak Chinese, or we should all learn to speak Spanish, but why does he decide that English should go?
Neeley: he thinks English is the way to go, because he’s consistent with the world. English is the world’s unambiguous business language. In fact, about 60 percent of the world’s companies have an official language, English. It’s been over thirty years now. For centuries, we had many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many It’s the fastest spreading language in human history.
Kenny: I think it’s really strange.
Neeley: you know, in a sense, it’s surprising, and if you think about it, it’s not surprising. You’d think the world of business language is made up of population, population or determined by the emerging markets, but the language of the real world is based on the language follows the superpower status to delimit, British, American, and the structure of language itself.
Kenny: in many countries around the world, I can almost always find someone who speaks English. I can find someone to help me. I was attacked in Japan (in case of this case), and it was difficult for me to find anyone who spoke English. What is the prevalence of English in Japan?
Nelly: actually, your observations are real. Interestingly, when mitsuaki forced English for his entire organization, he was also seeking to globalize the boundaries of Japanese society, national boundaries and English. Although English is part of the education system, each Japanese students at a young age can contact with English, they never use, not for business, also is not used for multinational working, but this kind of situation is changing fast. He is one of the pioneers of this change, so much so that prime minister Abe has helped him reform Japan’s English education. They did a lot of it there.
Kenny: tell us something about Mikitani and lotte. What is business, and what does he like as a business leader?
Neeley: rakuten, the company itself, can rival amazon, ebay, Expedia, all of these things together. Rakuten has all of these online services and services ecosystem. People choose to join rakuten, so you become a lotte subscriber, and you buy through all of them. You can buy eggs, wine, air tickets and some online banking, all through this membership. The Japanese market share is almost 90 per cent online.
He is a gripping leader in Mikitani. It’s an honor to know him. He is known as Japan’s Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, his foresight and understanding of what technology can do for business. He was fearless in making decisions. Sometimes he would be the only one with a unique vision and pursuit, and his co-founder, his executive team, was moving in the other direction. He felt the intuition of the future. He’s very bright. The ability to process large amounts of information in many areas. He is the son of an economist. Sometimes you can see him and listen to him almost as much as a teacher/professor/leader when he thinks and talks. He’s also charming.
Neeley: yes. He really is. That’s what he’s talking about and thinking about. I can trace his back to him in his thirties. He’s been thinking about it, talking about it for years, years, and really going all out. This case is really this one.
Kenny: yes. He may have a 90% market share in Japan, but compared with China and elsewhere, Japan is a relatively small market. His staff communicate with clients and global partners every day. Can you talk about the landscape of lotte?