Rakuten Replaces Kobo Chief Executive Mike Serbinis With Takahito Aiki

Former Kobo CEO Mike Serbinis.

Former Kobo CEO Mike Serbinis.

Founding Kobo CEO Mike Serbinis has been replaced by Takahito Aiki, effective immediately, according to the Financial Post. Serbinis will be vice chairman at the company, according to Pub Lunch.

The move comes two years after Kobo was acquired by Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, for $315 million. In that time, Kobo has expanded to some 190 countries and has 18 million users. While its ebook revenue market share is considered to be in the low single-digits in the U.S., it is thought to be the market share leader in Canada and a significant player several other markets worldwide.

New Kobo chief executive Takahito “Taka” Aiki is a Rakuten insider who recently ran the company’s telecom subsidiary, Fusion Communications. Aiki has also held management positions at consultancy Bain & Co. as well as at Tsutaya Online, a Japanese video rental company, where he was credited for growing membership by 250% in two years, according to a statement from Rakuten. Aiki has a degree from Cornell’s business school.

Request for comment and clarification from the company has not yet been returned.

Without knowing the company’s motivation, the move could have been expected. It’s not uncommon for senior managers at acquired companies to stay for a set term — usually in the neighborhood of two or three years — after an acquisition to help integrate into the acquiring company until a chosen candidate replaces him or her.

What is more uncommon is non-Japanese chief executives at Japanese companies. Only recently have prominent non-Japanese executives notably risen to the top spot at major Japanese companies. Howard Stringer was the CEO of Sony from 2005 to 2012, its first non-Japenese chief. His path was paved by Carlos Ghosn, who became CEO of Nissan in 2001.

Another possible reason for the change is Kobo’s future prospects in large digital media markets like the U.S. and UK. While a major player in Canada and the international scene, Kobo is widely regarded as a minor player in these much larger markets. With both Kobo and the UK’s e-commerce portal Play.com, Rakuten may have ambitions for these markets beyond being an “also-ran” competitor.


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