It Changed My Life

Top business school founder Yoshito Hori started small in a rented room

Yoshito Hori raised US$8k from his friends and began night school with his flat as office in 1992

On his 27th birthday, in 1989, Yoshito Hori found out that he had been accepted into Harvard Business School's MBA programme.

Then a promising executive overseeing power plant ventures in Asia for Japanese trading giant Sumitomo Corporation, he was chuffed about the prospect of a big pay jump.

"A friend who had gone to Stanford told me an MBA could triple one's salary," recalls the materials engineering graduate from Kyoto University.

So off he went to Boston, on a company scholarship.

To his surprise, many of his classmates didn't harbour what was then the Japanese dream: to work for a big corporation. Instead, they wanted to be entrepreneurs and build their own dreams.

His interest piqued, Mr Hori started learning all he could about entrepreneurship and decided he too wanted to start a business: a night school offering business courses.

His employers did not bite when he pitched them the idea upon his return. So he quit, cobbled together US$8,000, turned his apartment into an office and rented a classroom in Shibuya in 1992.

Mr Hori waiting to board a flight from Narita Airport to his high school in Sydney, Australia, when he was in his teens. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YOSHITO HORI

Today, Globis Management School has 500 staff and is one of Japan's top business schools with campuses in five cities including Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

Next month, it will open a hub campus in Singapore, offering for the first time outside Japan, Globis' pre-MBA programme which allows students to select MBA courses for individual credits.

Mr Hori didn't stop at a management school. Along the way, he also started Globis Capital Partners, which has a fund size of 16 billion yen (S$196 million).

Now 56, Mr Hori is one of Japan's most influential businessmen. He comes from a family of intellectuals.

"My (paternal) grandfather studied at Cambridge and was a professor at Keio University. My father was a nuclear scientist, and my mother comes from a family of politicians," says the youngest of three children.

Because of his father's job, he spent a few years in the United States as a child - first in Long Island and, later, in Michigan - but he grew up mainly in Tokai village in Ibaraki.

"We lived in a newly built community of scientists. Tokai is the home of Japan's first nuclear power plant. After the war, Japan had to look for new sources of energy since it doesn't have oil or gas," says Mr Hori, who in his teens spent a year in Sydney as an exchange student.

Good in maths and the sciences, he could have followed family tradition and gone into engineering.

"But I didn't like research. I am more sociable, so when I graduated, I told myself I would work in a company with no research labs."

He cut his professional teeth at Sumitomo, where he was involved in business development and the export of production plant facilities in Asia.

Globis Management School founder Yoshito Hori believes in the power of education and in giving back to the community. Among his many initiatives is one to revitalise his hometown Mito in Japan's Ibaraki prefecture. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

He left for Harvard to polish his professional credentials in 1989, when Japan's economy was booming. It was a heady era for the country, which saw Sony buying Columbia Pictures, and Mitsubishi acquiring a stake in Rockefeller Centre.

"Japan was then in a bubble. And I was in my 20s and single. I just wanted to go to the disco and wear nice clothes," Mr Hori says with a laugh. "Like many of my Japanese friends, I was happy working for a big company.

"I was on a scholarship and was still paid a salary. But many of my US classmates weren't; they had to pay their fees and living expenses on their own and ended up with student loans of more than US$200,000 by the time they finished school.

"On Friday nights, when we went for drinks in Charles Square, I would often ask them why they went through all of that. They all told me they had dreams of becoming an entrepreneur."

In fact, the career pyramid in the United States, he discovered, was the complete opposite of Japan.

"At the top was entrepreneurship, and at the bottom, working for a corporation."

It led him to take up mostly entrepreneurship courses in his second year.

Decisions he made during business simulations told him he had the right instincts to take the leap. "But I wasn't doing anything about it. Then one day, an entrepreneur came and gave a talk on campus. He said everyone had unlimited potential but that potential could be limited by a person's mindset."

Mr Hori decided then that he too would build his own business.

"From then on, I told myself I had to believe in my own potential and trust my brain power."

He explains why he settled on the idea of starting a business school in Japan, one offering affordable courses which working executives could attend at night or on weekends. "Business school changed my life. It expanded my horizons, changed my mindset and made me so many friends. I was so lucky I got this education.

"It's an opportunity not many people get in Japan so I decided I should create it for them," says Mr Hori who approached Harvard for approval to use its case studies.

He was hoping that his bosses at Sumitomo would think it a brilliant idea and help to realise it by bankrolling it.

Mr Hori cheering on his professional basketball team, Ibaraki Robots, with his wife and one of his five sons. PHOTO: COURTESY OF YOSHITO HORI 

But they didn't, so he turned to friends to raise US$8,000 to start Globis.

His apartment became his office, and he rented a classroom by the hour in Shibuya to conduct courses.

His colleagues thought he was crazy to leave a sought-after job at Sumitomo.

"I was the youngest to get a scholarship at Sumitomo. I analysed my career prospects there. I could have been in the top decision-making board but I would not have become CEO. I was too strange and dangerous," he says with a grin.

"It wasn't because I was ambitious. But I was excited about creating something totally different which contributed to society. I really believe in the power of education," adds Mr Hori, who decided at Harvard that he would like to start businesses revolving around people, capital and knowledge.

He sent out mailers and his first course - in marketing - attracted 20 students, many of them friends or friends of friends cultivated during his time at Sumitomo.

The feedback from this first batch of students was positive. A few months later, he borrowed more money from his family to grow Globis.

Besides marketing, he started offering other courses including finance and accounting.

Even though the courses were not accredited, the executives who attended found them useful.

"They were not only able to improve their skill sets but also make friends and build a network," says Mr Hori. "Initially they paid for the courses out of their own pocket but later, they negotiated with their companies to sponsor them because the courses were so good."

One thing led to another and soon Globis was conducting executive seminars for corporate giants like Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, and even Mr Hori's former employers Sumitomo.

"That's when our corporate education arm was born," he says, adding that he started a publishing arm in 1995.

Revenue for the first year was US$500,000. Five years later, "it was 16 times more".

From a one-man show when it started, Globis - which was accredited as an official school of management in 2005 and now offers MBAs - has 500 people on its payroll.

It became an educational corporation in 2008.

Along the way, Mr Hori - who made the cover of The Wall Street Journal in 1999 - also founded a venture capital fund with more than US$5 million in 1996.

Over the next few years, the outfit invested in more than 10 companies, and led more than half of them to go public. In 1999, it joined hands with British private equity partners Apax Partners to set up a US$200 million fund, investing in, among others, the IT and service sectors.

Mr Hori later went independent and, today, Globis Capital Partners has a fund size of 16 billion yen.

In the last year, he says, the fund made US$100 million (S$137 million) just from investments alone.

What the father of five sons, aged between 13 and 21, wants to do is "create an entrepreneurial ecosystem". It explains why he also started the G1, which he describes as a movement to gather and galvanise leaders of his generation to make Japan great again.

While attending the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2004, he was shocked at how world opinion of Japan as an economic power had dipped.

"I started to think about what I could do for the country."

In 2009, the G1 Summit - a Japanese version of the Davos meeting - was born as a platform for leaders from different fields to discuss issues dogging the country.

"We have ministers from the current Cabinet, about 15 billionaires, sportsmen, businessmen, intellectuals and religious leaders coming together to think about what we can do to make Japan a better place."

Asked why he's not in politics, he says simply: "I'm doing something they cannot do."

Mr Hori, who has written several books, lives in Tokyo and is also ambassador of his hometown Mito in Ibaraki prefecture.

"When I went back some years ago, I was shocked by how emptied out it was."

He has launched several initiatives to revitalise Mito, including investing in its professional basketball team and creating a downtown hub.

His work, he says, is cut out for him. "I have mapped out five dimensions. I have to take care of myself, my family, my organisation, my country and Asia.

"If you are capable and doing well, you have the responsibility to serve a higher community."