Does Family Background Determine Our Career Choices?

Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur's perspective.

“What really motivates you?” one of my MBA students asked me recently. “Are there any issues in your background that drive you?”

The question made me think of Brad Stone’s recent book about Amazon, The Everything Store. In it, Stone points out that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was adopted—as were Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Apple’s Steve Jobs. Stone speculates that being adopted may have been a factor in motivating the three men to set up their world-beating businesses.

Closer to home, Japanese telecoms giant Softbank recently became one of just six Asian companies with a market cap exceeding $100 billion. Masayoshi Son, the Softbank CEO, grew up in Japan in an “impoverished, ethnically Korean family,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Did belonging to this minority group also spur him on to success?

In my case, family-based psychological factors certainly play a part. I can trace my entrepreneurial motivations directly back to my two grandfathers.

Let me explain.

One of my grandfathers was a politician and the other was an engineering professor who also played a leading role in drafting Japan’s industrial and energy policy.

This second grandfather died in a plane crash when I was nine. After he died, his friends got together to create a memorial book in his honor. The book revealed that my grandfather, who was in his seventies at the time of his death, had lived his whole life in line with a personal mission statement he had written at the age of twenty-seven.

This memorial book, which had the title “My Mission,” set me wondering: What is my mission in life?

After flirting with the idea of becoming a politician, I followed in my other grandfather’s footsteps and studied engineering at Kyoto University.

Unfortunately, I hated it!

So I decided to go into business instead. My first job was at Sumitomo Corporation, one of Japan’s big trading houses. It was a great place to get a sense of what’s going in the world and how business works. I loved the job—but something was still missing.

After a few years, the company sponsored me to go to Harvard for an MBA. This was when I started to get a handle on what my own career should be.

Inspired by speeches I heard at the entrepreneurs’ club and encouraged by supportive classmates, I finally discovered my mission: to become an entrepreneur. I was fascinated by the idea of building something from scratch. I suddenly started to believe in my own possibilities. Finding your personal mission unleashes tremendous resources of energy and I began to feel I could achieve anything.

(On an aside, one trait successful entrepreneurs share is a wholehearted confidence in their own ideas in preference other people’s opinions. Remember, for example, Steve Jobs refusing to do market research because “consumers don’t know what they want.”)

Anyway, I decided that my mission was to build an interlinked eco-system of creation and innovation based on combining the three elements of “people,” “capital” and “knowledge.”

And I’ve been lucky enough to succeed. Now, I have a “people” business—Japan’s No. 1 business school; a “capital” business—a VC company; and a “knowledge” business—publishing, conference organizing, and so forth.

Looking back, I can see that I ended up taking the same mission-based approach to life as one of my grandparents, but applying it in a different field.

I found my personal mission through a process of trial and error. And it’s seldom an easy process. Now, when people ask me how they can figure out what their personal mission is, I encourage them to look for something that meets the following 3 criteria.

Your mission is:

1. Something you can do better than other people.
2. Something that gets you excited.
3. Something that you feel helps make the world a better place.

What about you? Have you ever analyzed what really motivates you? Is it something deep in your psychology? Is it a family member you look up to? What age were you when you discovered your mission? Or are you still looking?

Tell me about your journey. I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s motivations and missions in life.

(Photo: marekuliasz /shutterstock)


Mr. Yoshito Hori established GLOBIS Management School in 1992 and GLOBIS Capital Partners in 1996. In 2003, GLOBIS started its original MBA program which, in 2006, received accreditation from the Japanese Ministry of Education and gained “university” status. GLOBIS started a part-time MBA program in English in 2009 and a full-time MBA program in English in 2012.

A Harvard MBA graduate and former Sumitomo Corporation employee, Mr. Hori founded the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Japan Chapter in 1995 and became the first board member from Asia in charge of Asia Pacific region in 1996. He also served on the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s New Asian Leaders Executive Committee and Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership, as well as the Harvard Business School Alumni Board from 2005 to 2008. Currently, Mr. Hori is a board member of the Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and serves as co-chair of WEF’s Global Growth Companies.

In 2008, he launched the G1 Summit – a Japanese version of the WEF’s annual Davos forum. This led to the foundation of G1 Summit Institute in 2013, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

Just days after a huge earthquake struck northeast Japan in March 2011, Mr. Hori launched Project KIBOW to support the rebuilding of the disaster-affected areas. The following year Project KIBOW was incorporated as the KIBOW Foundation, which Mr. Hori serves as Representative Director.

An avid enthusiast of the Japanese game Go since age 40, Mr. Hori has been Director of the Nihon Ki-in (Japan Go Association) since June 2013.

Since October 2013, Mr. Hori has hosted a weekly TV program in Japan called Nippon Mirai Kaigi (Japan Future Conference). He has authored several books including Visionary Leaders who Create and Innovate Societies, Six Dimensions of Life, and My Personal Mission Statement.

Mr. Hori received his BS in Engineering from Kyoto University and his MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an avid swimmer and enjoys spending time with his family, especially his five sons.

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