Rakuten Group chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani named CEO and chairman of Symphony following Amin’s immediate departure 

Tareq Amin has stood down as CEO of Rakuten Mobile and its vendor subsidiary Rakuten Symphony with immediate effect, citing personal reasons, according to a company statement. 

Rakuten Group chairman and founder Mickey Mikitani takes over as CEO and chairman of Rakuten Symphony while Rakuten Mobile CTO Sharad Sriwastawa was appointed acting president of Rakuten Symphony. 

Rakuten’s domestic network will now be headed by Kazuhiro Suzuki and Sharad Sriwastawa, named as co-CEOs under the newly announced management structure, according to reports. 

Open RAN champion and advocate Amin served as representative director and CEO at Rakuten Symphony, as well as representative director and co-CEO at Rakuten Mobile. Other previous executive roles include CEO and CTO of its mobile services division, CEO of Rakuten Symphony, and group CTO and chief architect officer for the broader Rakuten Group. 

He led the virtualisation charge at Rakuten Mobile, deploying it to run its 4G LTE network and 5G when it became available. The technology driving the platform and specifically the Open RAN expertise became Symphony so Rakuten could monetise it by offering it to other operators. Globally, Rakuten has deals with 1&1, Dish, MTN, Virgin Media O2, Zain, Salam, and Axiata among others. 

Although Rakuten’s domestic network has been performing very well in recent Opensignal tests, the operator is still struggling to make financial returns. In January, despite record group revenues, Rakuten Mobile’s losses dragged the group into a loss of 78.6bn yen at the end of Q3 2022. Without the mobile unit, the group would have had an operating profit of 47.2bn yen.   

In its Q1 earnings release in May, Rakuten Mobile outlined a move to slice JPY300 billion from its network budget from 2023 to 2025. Rakuten posted an 82.5bn yen ($608 million) net loss for the three months through March, a slight improvement on the year according to Nikkei [subscription]. 

Reimagine telecom 

Mikitani said Sriwastawa’s appointment was “emblematic of Rakuten Symphony’s mission to reimagine telecom.” 

“With his proven track record at Rakuten Mobile, deep understanding of global technology trends and the evolving commercial opportunities for companies in the telco sphere, we are pleased to expand Sharad’s role as a visionary leader who will guide the company’s expansion, capitalise on our business momentum, and solidify its future as an industry-disrupting enterprise,” he said.  

Sriwastawa will be responsible for advancing the progress of Rakuten Symphony’s telco solutions around cloud-native Open RAN. He joined Rakuten Mobile in September 2018 as head of connectivity platforms and became CTO in March 2022. He was also appointed Group managing executive officer of Rakuten Group in April 2022. 

Family matters 

In a post on LinkedIn, Amin said he was going to spend more time with his family. “As I prepare to embark on a new chapter, I carry the learnings and experiences gained at Rakuten with me. I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and the chance to make a difference in the world once again,” he wrote.  

“I look forward to staying connected with each one of you as I embrace new challenges and continue to strive for innovation and disruption in the industry.” 

The case for optimism 

The timing of Amin’s departure ironically coincided with the telco just finishing a week-long Rakuten Optimism 2023 event, which saw Mikitani (above) highlighting the collaboration underway with OpenAI. 

To date, Rakuten has already launched several services powered by OpenAI’s technology. The messaging app Rakuten Viber provides users with an official chatbot powered by the interactive AI ChatGPT and image generation AI DALL·E 2 provided by OpenAI. 

Rakuten Securities has launched an Investment AI Assistant (beta version) which uses ChatGPT to help customers learn about the basics of investment and investment methods suited to their experience level. And last month, Rakuten Life Insurance also introduced ChatGPT to its dedicated terminals to assist insurance agents in their daily work. 

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