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On May 7th, the Palau de Congressos de Catalunya conference centre hosted the 23rd ESADE Alumni Annual Conference in Barcelona, one of the association’s flagship events and a meeting point for old classmates, friends and work colleagues. The keynote speaker this year was Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder, president and CEO of Rakuten Inc.
The highpoint of this year’s conference was an interview of Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder, president and CEO of Rakuten Inc., by Pedro Parada (PhD 03), director of ESADE’s department of general management and strategy and board member of ESADE Alumni, in front of almost 2,000 ESADE alumni at the Palau de Congressos de Catalunya. Hiroshi Mikitani also received the ESADE 2018 award for his great success at the helm of Rakuten’s global strategy. In a period of more than a decade, he transformed the company into a world leader in a wide spectrum of services ranging from e-commerce, travel, internet portals, banking, online security, telecommunications and sports sponsorship.
This award is an acknowledgement of his outstanding career, his way of managing leaders and inspiring people, and his vision of providing first-rate financial services.
This year’s new feature was a networking cocktail to the sound of The Tutsies, with the support act, ESADE Musicians.
Maite Barrera (Lic&MBA 98), the ESADE Alumni president, opened the conference by thanking everyone for coming along and thanking the event’s sponsors and collaborators – Caixabank, SEAT and AlfaConsulting – for their support. She welcomed the new members in the hall and particularly Mikitani, a person who believes that “dreams are the driving force of society. His dream was Rakuten, the company he created 21 years ago as a market place and whose mantra is to be “a global innovation company. Maite Barrera explained that along the road to success, this entrepreneur realised that no one is always right, and he had to be brave and set his sights very high, and appreciate the importance of his team of staff.
The ESADE Alumni president shared her experience of the importance of people in an organisation. “In the course of our professional careers we need help. No one can achieve things alone. I hope, therefore, that ESADE Alumni can help you and be your partner, a benchmark for you, she said.
Maite Barrera stressed the association’s enormous growth in recent years, now with more than 18,000 members: “This is the largest alumni association in Europe with 70 international chapters, 800 events each year in 80 cities around the world, more than 300 volunteers helping the third sector via Alumni Social Ventures, a business angel network that has won the award for the best business angel in Europe, a career service that has given more than one thousand career guidance interviews... We have reasons to be proud.
But this fast-changing world is a challenge for ESADE Alumni too. “We must adapt, innovate and exploit technology to become even more connected. We must constantly innovate because we still have a long way to go to be the best for each of you. She urged the audience to get involved with the future that lay ahead.
Maite Barrera ended her speech to the sound of You’ll never walk alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers, and shared a heart-felt embrace on stage with the ESADE managing director, Eugenia Bieto (Lic&MBA 73 / PhD 08). Together they celebrated the fact that the heads of ESADE and ESADE Alumni were both women.
During her speech, the ESADE managing director praised Hiroshi Mikitani. “Rakuten will be recognized and awarded because they had the courage and vision to do things differently. The company has emerged as one of the leading internet service companies in the global market, she said.
Eugenia Bieto felt that this conference had taken place in a special year – the eighth year since her appointment as ESADE managing director – and therefore wanted to share with the audience her experience and thoughts about the present and future of ESADE.
She emphasised ESADE’s great international acclaim as confirmed by its rankings and accreditations, and its commitment to innovation and enterprise. “But we must not forget that we must be capable of using the knowledge we acquire to advance society. We must help our country become not only more wealthy but also more fair, more willing to help others and more sustainable. And one of the challenges that has given us cause for concern in recent years is related to the gender inequality still found in companies, she pointed out.
The next academic year will mark the 60th year in the history of ESADE, ready to lead change in further education. In this respect the director recalled that universities must not become mere “store rooms of knowledge and that they should ideally become ecosystems of living knowledge where people can experiment and keep pace. “Only a return to humanist knowledge can ensure a humane society of people, a society we must never lose. I urge you to use all these skills and knowledge to advance society, she concluded.
The ESADE 2018 award was then presented to Hiroshi Mikitani for his work at the head of Rakuten’s global strategy. The ESADE awards are held by ESADE Alumni to acknowledge people or organisations whose career, activities or services rendered have shown the values inherent in ESADE’s founding spirit, values that can be a benchmark or example for other people.
After accepting the reward, Hiroshi Mikitani explained, during his conversation with Pedro Parada, that his business concept was for Rakuten to have the hustle and bustle of an old-fashioned, open-air street market in the city. “This is why we enable sellers to communicate directly with their customers via their websites. In this respect, he said that the lines between online and offline sales were becoming increasingly blurred. “In Japan, for example, our users get points for purchases in brick-and-mortar stores which they can exchange online and vice versa. The Rakuten CEO also saw a bright future for traditional business. “Since Rakuten grew and expanded their services, we can see that brick-and-mortar business will prosper. We can digitise their brick-and-mortar business to make it more agreeable for their consumers.
When asked about the values of his own company, Mikitani emphasised that one of the things that made the greatest impression on them when they started talking to FC Barcelona was the club’s “deep and long-lasting links with the community, particularly via their young players. “Working with local communities and the owners of small businesses lies at the core of the Rakuten philosophy, he emphasised.
As regards the Ratuken approach to innovation, Mikitani explained that innovation is not just about strategy. “To encourage in-house innovation, we talk about it constantly, we incentivise new ideas and we never penalise failure.
Mikitani says he was lucky to start the right business at the right time, and he believes that the world is undergoing a massive transformation. “Technology is moving much faster than our instinct, changes will happen sooner than we think and businesses must be ready. Mikitani encouraged the audience to cast off pre-conceived ideas.
Closing the event, Xavier Sánchez (Lic & MBA 97 / AMP 08), director of ESADE Alumni, presented the advantages of the new ESADE Alumni application, which will allow the alumni community to be more connected to networks, geolocation and the agility in the administration, and that is part of the strategy of the association to "know better the whole group of alumni and be able to accompany him in the achievement of his objectives", he said. The director of ESADE Alumni also wanted to emphasize that this annual day was conceived taking into account all the comments received from former students in previous editions "because who does not change does not improve".
Finally, at the traditional cocktail, participants enjoyed first-rate networking at the meeting points set up around the hall and then immortalised the moment at the photocall.
The giving-back concert featuring the ESADE Musicians and The Tutsies, playing the very best international pop-rock numbers, was very well received. An after-show ticket office enabled the audience to make donations to the #ESADEgoespink fundraising campaign for breast cancer research and a greater awareness of juvenile dermatomyositis.