Like a lot of big companies, the Japanese Internet giant Rakuten used to host annual offsite retreats where all the executives would meet at a golf course to connect and talk strategy.
About seven years ago, that tradition changed radically.
CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani tells Business Insider that he now has his leadership team do something more adventurous than gathering at a cushy resort.
Instead, execs now meet on Mount Tanigawa every year, a Japanese mountain that has claimed the lives of more climbers than Mount Everest.
Despite that jarring death toll, Mikitani decided to change the company offsite after hiking the mountain with his young son. Although the climb is difficult, some trails, including the one Rakuten employees take, are less dangerous than others.
Mikitani sees the tradition as the perfect way for execs to get to know each other better through a non-conventional bonding experience. Even more importantly, the struggle to make it to the top altogether symbolizes the idea of working through company difficulties as a team. “Rakuten always goes to the peak,” Mikitani grins.
One other exec who has climbed Mount Tanigawa several times gleefully told Business Insider that he almost died last year when he started sliding on the rocks under his feet. He almost careened off the side of a cliff before managing to grab onto a rock. His teammates and their guide then threw him a rope he used to climb back onto the path.
Although the offsite is all about team building and pushing boundaries, another exec jokes that it also acts as a good way for employees to stay in good physical condition through the year.
“The fear keeps you fit,” he laughs, saying that he would remind himself to go to the gym more often in the months leading up to the retreat.
Mikitani recalls one particularly memorable climb where he invited a journalist who planned to profile the company to join the expedition. After a grueling ascent and witnessing how execs continually pushed themselves and each other to the limit to make it to the top, the journalist, between his own tired gasps, apparently said, “Now I finally feel like I understand Rakuten.”