Japanese scholar challenges conventional business school model, seeks to nurture new type of leader

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

When in the 2000s the world saw ripple effects of the massive accounting fraud of U.S. energy giant Enron Corp. and the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., business management expert Tomoyoshi Noda was flooded with messages questioning the skills of business leaders whose actions led to the crises.

The academic who has taught at business schools in the United Kingdom, France and Singapore argues that such crises and other problems in world affairs have occurred as a result of leadership failures and corporate leaders’ unpreparedness for operating on a global scale.

Noda wants to challenge and reform the conventional thinking that permeates worldwide business education to instead nurture leaders more capable of distancing themselves from consumer trends and of making a global impact.

“We live in a competitive world where, amid continuous technology advancements, people tend to seek only comfort, security and convenience,” he said in a recent interview in Tokyo. He referred to the pursuit of prestige and money as the main causes leading some business owners to engage in misconduct.

“As a result, people are behaving as cogs in the wheel of a systemized world, losing their humanity,” he said.

Noda, who has 17 years of experience holding seminars for businesspeople, said he plans in August to open Shizenkan University, a graduate school aimed at fostering leaders with the capacity to form a future model of capitalism.

Noda said he wants to nurture people who will understand how businesses impact communities in Japan and around Asia, those who can define and address challenges of communities from global perspectives.

“(Leadership) is about coming up with ways to respond to the needs of society,” not of shareholders, Noda said, adding that leaders must rethink what kind of role businesses should play in the world.

He said he wants to add new value to the existing master’s degree in business administration to highlight abilities to develop innovative solutions that will transform society.

Noda explained that most of the world’s business educational institutions have adopted an education system primarily created in the United States to arm business leaders with the skills needed to make a profit and win market competition. The first American business schools, including Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania, with U.S. President Donald Trump among its alumni, were established in the end of the 19th century and gained in stature in the following decades.

“Businesses then didn’t have as much influence on global markets (as today) … and business schools, which were set up to focus on teaching business strategies, have become some sort of professional training courses,” he said.

Noda believes the concept of capitalism conceived in the previous centuries is outdated and wants to spark debate over whether the business education system for nurturing leaders based on the current form of capitalism fits the times.

Instead of focusing only on business strategies, Noda said he wants students to explore the structures of Western and Asian societies along with ideas behind their science and technologies, as well as the roots of human behavior.

Noda also wants his students to study Asian philosophy, including the five virtues of Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.) — benevolence, justice, courtesy, wisdom and sincerity — in the belief such ideologies play an important role in shaping society.

The school’s name, Shizenkan, derives from the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism and is a combination of characters meaning “the school of ultimate goodness” in rough translation.

The school will offer a two-year MBA course, designed for businesspeople and bureaucrats in their mid-20s to late 30s who can attend classes at nights and weekends, conducted in either Japanese or English. It plans to accept 80 students, ideally a mix of Japanese and non-Japanese, in its first year.

Students at Shizenkan, which will be located in the Nihonbashi business district in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, will learn about Japanese firms’ transformations to thrive in increasingly global markets, collaborate with long-established businesses in the district and help them introduce solutions to adapt to globalization.

To become more familiar with the local customs, the students will have a chance as part of the program to participate in local festivals, carrying mikoshi portable shrines.

“Of around 7,000 companies with more than 200 years of history worldwide, about 5,000 are Japanese firms … and many long-established businesses are located in Nihonbashi,” Noda said. “While retaining their traditional practices, every once in a while such firms have to introduce innovative solutions to survive in the market.”

At the same time, the school will offer classes by lecturers with different expertise, including Oriental philosophy, religion and somatology.

Shizenkan will cooperate with business schools outside Japan, including IESE, a business school of the University of Navarra in Spain, and India’s School of Inspired Leadership, to broaden students’ viewpoints beyond business management. With other world-renowned academics, Noda wants to create a platform to discuss the role and the meaning of leadership and the role of business schools in society.

“I want people to ask themselves who they are, and what’s their value as a leader,” Noda said. “And I want people to discover the purpose of their actions.”