Hiroshi Mikitani, 35, was an early convert to the Web. Five years ago, he left a promising career as an investment banker to set up his own Internet consulting firm, serving clients such as Softbank Corp. Then, in 1997, he launched Rakuten, the first cybermall in Japan to offer retailers a low-cost way to reach consumers on the Internet. With the Japanese economy in decline, it looked like the worst possible time to launch an online retail venture. But Mikitani saw only opportunity: "I knew that the Internet would eventually take off in Japan, and I wanted to be a part of it."
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