Yasuhiro Oyama, 76, is the president of Nihon Rikagaku Industry, known not only for being the first chalk-maker to launch dustless chalk in Japan, but for the employees who make its products: 54 out of the company's 74 employees are mentally challenged, with 60 percent of them having an IQ lower than 50. At Nihon Rikagaku, handicaps are turned into abilities — an attitude that has given those who wouldn't typically have the opportunity to work the chance to live happier lives. These employees have helped the company achieve a 30-percent market share and make award-winning products such as its Kittopas brand — recipient of the 2006 Kawasaki Monozukuri Prize — a chalk that can be used on glass and other unusual surfaces. Crediting his employees for all his success, in 1981 Oyama founded the Japan Association of Employers of Persons with Severe Disabilities, which today has 341 member companies. For his dedication to helping challenged people make a living for themselves, just last month Oyama received the Eichi Shibusawa Prize, named after the famed industrialist whose motto was that public profit should always have priority over private interests.

Being loved is not enough for happiness. Many of our employees take a 90-minute train ride and then walk 15 minutes to our factory. Why? Because they are happy here! But what gives them that feeling? I wondered about that until a monk told me that happiness had four components and, with the exception of being loved, the other three can only be obtained through work: being complimented, having the chance to help others and having the feeling that one is needed and appreciated. Thanks to this monk, I understood that I should employ as many challenged people as I could.

Don't you ever give up! If you are turned away one, twice, you should still go back the third time. In 1959, I had a visit from a teacher from a special school for mentally challenged kids. He asked me to hire a few graduates, and when I didn't agree, he left — but was soon back again. By the third time he stopped by, he was only asking me to take them in for a few weeks so they could get a taste of work. The two students worked so hard that by the end of their three weeks, all my employees were asking me to give them full-time positions. The whole team was united more than ever and everyone promised to help those two.