John Rockefeller or John Harvard?

By Yoshito Hori, an EO Japan member and chairman and CEO of GLOBIS Group.

Who do you respect more: John Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, or John Harvard, founder of Harvard University? Perhaps the better question is: Who do you value more— the person who built a money-making empire or the person who created a leading educational institution?

This is a tough question to tackle, especially when it comes to business. I faced a similar query after I started GLOBIS, one of Japan’s leading venture capital firms, upon graduating from Harvard Business School (HBS) in 1992. The concept was simple: I wanted to create an HBS-like institution in Japan using case methods to educate visionary leaders. I started this as a for-profit entity, and it quickly became a successful and influential organization.

The business achieved great success, netting a 30- to 50-percent annual growth rate in the first 10 years. What’s more, we expanded from Tokyo to Osaka and Nagoya, and we made more than US$10 million in profit. We achieved incredible success, but ultimately, we had to decide what direction we wanted our business to take— stay on the profitable route or build a leading educational institution? Should we make GLOBIS public and capitalize on our success, or convert it into a not-for-profit, allowing us to build a university that could last several hundred years?

If we chose the former, we knew we would become very rich. If we chose the latter, we could create Asia’s number one business school, even if that meant we couldn’t receive dividends or capital gain. We spent a year and a half mulling over the options, trying to reach our conclusion. Personally, I went through a lot of philosophical questioning. What is the purpose of life? What do I want to use my life for? What do I value the most? To solve this questioning, I used meditation to remove myself from greed and the desires for money, power and fame. In time, I started to realize who I was and what I wanted to achieve in life and business.

In the end, we decided to create a foundation (an educational corporation, really) and donate our business and cash. We even obtained University status. Since our decision, GLOBIS has become the largest business school in Japan, ranking number one for 2008 and 2009. We are now following the path to become number one in all of Asia, and we have a purpose. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision. My friends have become billionaires, but I made the right choice. I enjoy teaching, educating leaders and creating new industries. I guess I’ve decided to follow John Harvard’s path.

Which do you follow?

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