It’s common in Harvard Business School classrooms to discuss the “pivot,” the moment an enterprise changes direction to pursue a new strategy. On a visit to eastern Japan, MBA students talked to Masamichi Ono, CEO of chrysanthemum grower Ono Kashoen, which shifted strategy after a massive earthquake killed thousands of area residents.
“He talked about dozens of families walking from farmer to farmer, asking to find chrysanthemum flowers used for funerals,” student Kazumasa Mukae (HBS MBA ’14) recalls. “His understanding of his business was redefined from a simple chrysanthemum producer to a provider of closures for families who have lost their loved ones. It was memorable to hear him talk about how his mission in life was developed and how he had redefined his business.”
Each winter, 900 HBS students dispatch around the world to see businesses up close, learn what they can about how they are run, and share their own knowledge with the leaders of a wide variety of enterprises, from mom-and-pop shops to megacorporations.
One of these programs, called the Immersion Experience Program (IXP), each year sends 30 or so potential MBAs to Japan, where they receive a unique education made possible by one of the most lethal disasters in modern history.