It’s quite fitting that Rakuten means optimism in Japanese. A leader in global internet services, headquartered in Tokyo, Rakuten has built enormous reach around the world, and it’s due in no small part to a culture of positivity, grit, and determination. Those values and beliefs align with those of Spartan Race, a global obstacle course, extreme wellness, and lifestyle company. Rakuten has leveraged the Spartan corporate teams platform as a vehicle for team building, bonding, and client entertainment all over the world, and is the first company to receive the coveted Spartan Spirit Award.
A remarkable 647 Rakuten employees across 24 offices in Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia have joined corporate Spartan teams and participated in over 30 Spartan races. Thirty-four Rakutenians — as they’re affectionately called amongst each other — have completed two or more races, six completed a Trifecta (finishing a Sprint, Super, and Beast in one calendar year) in 2019, and one employee has completed 17 races this year alone. Spartan obstacle course racing has brought employees of different levels and different divisions together in a meaningful way, and this experience has helped foster a more collaborative, productive culture in the workplace.
How Rakuten and Spartan Inspire a Healthy Lifestyle for Workers
Kyle Kim, Rakuten’s Senior Manager of Global Marketing Supervisory Department, is aiming to have 1,000 Rakutenians participate in Spartan Races by the end of the year. His ultimate goal, however, is to see all 17,000-plus Rakuten employees across the world compete. That’s how important he believes Spartan is for the company and the well-being of its hard-working employees.
“Many people actually started to work out and become healthier [as a result of Spartan],” Kim said. “Some employees have invited their families, friends, partners, and clients, and created stronger connections and affection among themselves. There are multiple groups of employees who work out together early in the morning before work hours, or after work at the nearby park. They wear the Spartan shirts together when working out.
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“I strongly believe that these changes we see will eventually create a massive impact on the workplace — strong body, strong mind, strong culture, and happiness brought from families and friends. All of these will eventually boil down to Rakuten becoming a global household brand.”
How Racing the OCR Circuit Brings Colleagues Together
Nicole Pace, VP of Marketing, North America at Rakuten Marketing, was one of almost 30 employees to participate in the Spartan Stadion Race hosted at New York’s Citi Field — the home of Major League Baseball’s New York Mets — on April 13. Pace recalls how much fun the team had and how much the experience brought colleagues together in a very unique way.
“It was a great team-building event,” Pace said. “Super motivating, everyone was helping and motivating each other throughout the course. A really nice bonding opportunity, starting the event off together, and we all met again at the end with a sense of accomplishment.
“Even though some folks traveled the course in different groups, depending on their pace and what they felt most comfortable with, in the end everyone was one team and cheered for each other, and we all have great shared memories.”
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The Rakuten Spartan Spirit Award: Fostering Better Working Relationships
The Rakuten team also included several Spartan employees, as well as clients. Erica Young, the Director of Digital Marketing at Barneys New York — Barneys is a client of Rakuten Marketing — didn’t know many of her teammates prior to the race, but she met all of them the night before at a “carbs” dinner, where they feasted on pasta in preparation of the race. Going through a Spartan race course with a broad group of executives and division leads opened her eyes to the various businesses that Rakuten operates in, and it led to several follow-up meetings. After being introduced in shorts (not suits) and going through a Spartan race together, those follow-ups felt exceptionally comfortable.
“When I first walked into the room for what should have been a traditional sales pitch, we were instantly at ease, and there was a shared sense of trust already,” Young said. “I was really impressed by all the businesses Rakuten is in, and would likely not have learned about these had it not been for the shared racing experience.”
Young also marveled at the fact that, unlike other forms of corporate entertainment (drinks, dinner, plays), the Spartan race revolved around accomplishing a feat.
“For a high-performance company or a group that is in a high-pressure environment, races like Spartan races are ideal because you actually accomplish something at the end,” Young said. “It’s not just going out for drinks or having a dinner or seeing a play … Not many events really enable you to bond under that kind of performance spirit.”
Across Rakuten’s European offices, Spartan has equally become a big part of the company’s culture. Mark Haviland, Rakuten’s Executive Vice President of Brand Development and Sustainability for EMEA, noted that more than 60 employees have raced throughout Europe, in cities such as London, Brighton, Paris, Montpellier, and Dublin.
Haviland is passionate about the fact that success on the course and success in the office are directly correlated.
“Most of us rely on others at some point in our day,” the Rakuten executive said, “and few achievements are really acts of one person alone. So being able to see and then support our colleagues in real physical stress gives us the empathy so often needed at work. Once you’ve done a Spartan race, you know the value of the human beings and minds that surround you every day.”
In the coming months, European Rakuten employees are slated to run races in Berlin and Barcelona, among other cities.
“For the company to be recognized by Spartan in this way is a real golden moment,” he said. “We have always valued self-improvement and the need to embrace challenges with vigor, but rarely do you get an award as a result! The teams that took part have much to be proud of, and I know there are many more of us that plan to race before the year is out, and this is the inspiration needed to keep going and climb higher. It’s something to feel proud of.”