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Career Success
OCT 24, 2013

Samurai spirit in an MBA program?

By Yoshito Hori

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

Having graduated from Harvard Business School in 1991, long before the 2001 collapse of Enron or the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, unsurprisingly, I had been educated that skills and academic knowledge set far greater weight than on values, vision and personal mission.

Time proved that Harvard’s priorities were upside down. I’ve been in business for over 30 years and in my experience “intangibles” like character, philosophy and entrepreneurial spirit are always more important than “tangibles” like skill-sets and knowledge.

That was why I made a course designed to help students think deeply about their own values, and identify their personal mission when I set up a business school in Japan in 1992.

That’s also why the course—despite its name of “entrepreneurial leadership”—features only a single business leader: Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989), visionary founder of electronics giant Panasonic.

You’ve got to admit that many of the most inspiring examples of leadership come from outside the business world. The way Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton managed to bring all the men on his 1914 expedition safely home—despite losing his ship, drifting on ice floes for months and traveling hundreds of miles through stormy seas in a lifeboat—teaches unforgettable lessons about leadership in crisis.

The life of Nelson Mandela—specifically the story of how he helped raise a sense of national unity in post-apartheid South Africa by getting everyone, regardless of color, to support the country’s all-white rugby team, when South Africa was host of the 1995 Rugby World Cup—is a great way to learn about leadership in a time of change.

We also take time to explore the Japanese spirit as it applies to values, philosophy and so on. Here, the key text is Nitobe Inazo’s Bushido, the Soul of Japan, published in 1905.

For Inazo, bushido came from four main sources: Buddhism (teaching “calm trust in Fate”); Shintoism (teaching loyalty, patriotism and self-knowledge); Confucianism (teaching respect for hierarchy); and the philosophy of Wan Yan Ming (teaching the idea that thought and action should be consistent).

The result, he claimed, was a people with six “pervading characteristics”: a sense of justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, sincerity and self-control.

Samurai education was primarily about “building character”: money is not a good of itself; all of us have obligations to societies other than ourselves.

One way that GLOBIS helps our MBA students define their personal mission and values is through teaching the concept of kokorozashi. Written by combining the characters for samurai (士) and heart (心), kokorozashi (志) means “ambition, but” in the bushido sense of “Personal vision”.

This notion of taking a more high-minded, unselfish approach is something our international MBA students like a lot. See what Jose Miguel Herrera, a Mexican student who has just graduated in 2013 had to say when I asked him what the kokorozashi concept had done for him.

I originally associated an MBA with ideas such as climbing the corporate ladder or becoming a successful entrepreneur. In both cases the goal was to become wealthy, achieve financial freedom and create a personal legacy.

Learning about kokorozashi helped me redefine the concept of an MBA. Getting an MBA is not just about accessing tools and networks to define a strategy for financial success. It is a moment to define a bigger purpose for all your goals and ambitions.

The kokorozashi concept helped me rediscover my personal core values. It reminded me that financial freedom is only the first step. Great ambitions require great inspirations and a personal mission. Personal mission is not just about what we get, but also about how we give back. It is about how to be successful enough to create real positive change in society.

I am proud that we’ve had it in place ever since our MBA course started.

I personally feel that the tremendous energy will arise from within, if you know what your Kokorozashi (personal vision) in life is. In other words, if you are pursuing Kokorozashi, no matter what hardship you may encounter, you have the energy to overcome it.

With this belief, I am pursuing to create No.1 business school in Asia. This teaching has also pushed our alumni and students to act when Japan encountered difficulties in coping with Great Earthquake and Tsunami. One of the example can be found in my former article on Hiroki Iwasa.

Our alumni are all living their own lives, not other peoples’ lives.

“Nothing is more loathsome to the samurai than underhand dealings or crooked undertakings,” wrote Inazo in his old-fashioned English. What would the motto of the modern samurai be then? Our educational principle is set up

To develop visionary leaders who create and innovate societies.

“Bushido” and “Kokorozahi” as a core of MBA program, may sound strange, but leadership is all about vision, mission, values, character and spirits.

It would be good for the world to have such a totally different business school as GLOBIS, wouldn’t it?

(Cover photo: © adrenalinapura –, Inazo Nitobe: “Memories for 80 years, Bakumatsu, Meiji, Taisho”)

This article was originally published for LinkedIn Influencer Program on September 9, 2013.