Entrepreneur Mentored by Rakuten Billionaire Becomes One Himself
(Bloomberg) -- Soichiro Swimmy Minami came under the wing of Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder of e-commerce giant Rakuten Group Inc., when he worked at Rakuten’s professional baseball team back in 2004.
Mikitani told him businesses must fix a social problem. Minami took his words to heart.
In April, Minami listed his own company, Visional Inc., on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The entrepreneur is now worth $1.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, taking his place alongside Mikitani in the ranks of billionaires.
It’s another example of how the boom in IPOs is creating vast fortunes for founders around the world.
“He mentored me in a way,” Minami, 45, said in an interview. He “taught me that business is meant to solve issues in society and make society better.”
As Minami tells it, that’s exactly what Visional is trying to do.
The businessman set up Visional, which operates the BizReach recruiting platform, in 2009 because he saw Japan’s lifetime employment system as a huge deterrent to the country’s growth.
Only about 2% of full-time workers in Japan changed jobs last year, Minami said, citing government data. The ratio of workers who have stayed in one post for more than 10 years was 48% in Japan in 2017, the highest among 35 countries including the U.S., France and the U.K., according to OECD data.
By contrast, a recent PwC survey in the U.S. found 65% of employees are looking for a new job.
“I just felt that this outdated work style in Japan needed to be changed,” Minami said. “There’s a lot of room to grow, a lot of room for improvement. And that’s what I’m betting on.”
BizReach allows job seekers to post their resumes on its site and be contacted directly by employers and headhunters. It targets full-time workers who make an annual salary of more than 6 million yen ($54,000), according to Minami. It had about 1.4 million job seekers registered on the platform as of July 2021, according to a company presentation, with more than 17,000 employers subscribing to the service.
Minami, who owns 45% of Visional, has lots of experience of moving jobs himself -- and being thrown into new situations.
He had a major life change even before he entered the workforce, when his family moved to Canada from Japan when he was six. One day at school, where he was the only child from a non-Western background, his teacher put a book on his desk that told the tale of a fish called Swimmy, which overcame the challenges of being in a minority. Later, Minami adopted Swimmy as his middle name.
After returning to Japan for middle school and doing his undergraduate degree at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Minami worked for Morgan Stanley in Tokyo as a financial analyst, and for telecommunications company PCCW Ltd. Then, he became a founding member of the Rakuten Eagles, Rakuten’s pro baseball team, which is where he met Mikitani.
Rakuten said in an email that Minami was “an important part of the founding of the Rakuten Eagles.”
Minami said he repeatedly had to “throw out” his previous experiences to fit into a new environment. Japanese professionals, he said, need to learn how to do the same thing.
Visional’s stock is up 43% since listing in April -- most of which came from a first-day pop. That’s compared to a gain of about 8% for Japan’s benchmark Topix index.
Investors are waiting to see if the company’s earnings growth is sustainable, said Tomoichiro Kubota, a senior market analyst at Matsui Securities Co. in Tokyo. If it isn’t, “it’ll probably be difficult to anticipate greater upside,” he said.
Visional reported revenue of 28.7 billion yen for the 12 months ended July, an 11% increase from the previous year. Operating profit was 2.4 billion yen, 8.3% higher than a year earlier.
Whatever happens with the stock, Minami says he’s just getting started in his plan to change the Japanese labor force, and by doing so make the country more productive.
“It’s very inefficient,” he said. “But if you could make it efficient, I think we’re back in business.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.