A statue of John Harvard on the left, and an image of John Rockefeller on the right.
Shutterstock/Helena G.H/Everett Historical

Who do you respect more: John Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, or John Harvard, founder of Harvard University? Perhaps a better way to phrase the question is, “Who do you respect more: the builder of a moneymaking empire or the creator of a leading educational institution?”

It’s a tough question—and a tough choice to make in life. I faced a similar “moment of truth” after I set up my company GLOBIS upon graduating from Harvard Business School (HBS) in 1992. The concept was simple: to create an HBS-like institution in Japan using the case study method to educate visionary leaders.

GLOBIS was launched as a for-profit entity. Our net annual growth rate in the first 10 years was between 30 and 50 percent. We expanded from Tokyo to Osaka and Nagoya, and were making US$10 million plus in annual profits. Ultimately, though, we had to decide which direction we wanted the business to go in.

Should we take GLOBIS public to capitalize on our success? Or should we convert it into a not-for-profit to create a university capable of lasting hundreds of years?

Choosing the former would make us very rich; choosing the latter would mean the chance of doing something meaningful, but foregoing any dividends or capital gains. We spent 18 months mulling the options. I did a lot of soul-searching. What did I want to use my life for? What did I value the most?

In the end, I turned to meditation to rid myself of any desire for money, power or fame. Gradually, I started to realize who I really was and what I wanted to achieve in life and business.

We opted to create a not-for-profit foundation (an educational corporation) and donate the money and business that we had invested in for more than 15 years. We even obtained official university status. GLOBIS has gone on to become the No. 1 business school in Japan by size and rank, even rated number one multiple times in the Nikkei business newspaper. Our current goal is to become No. 1 in all of Asia, and we are well on our way.

Looking back, I don’t regret my decision. Several friends of mine have become billionaires. It is not bad to be super-rich, but I rather enjoy teaching, educating leaders, and creating new industries. I guess I decided to follow the path of John Harvard, rather than John Rockefeller.

Which are you—a Harvard or a Rockefeller?