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Kozo Hayase ’72 Looks Back at the Trail He Blazed as He Heads into Retirement

After a formative year at Dwight, Kozo went on to work in the Japanese banking industry for two decades before opening his own businesses in Japan and Vietnam.

Kozo Hayase’s father worked for a Japanese trading company, which brought Kozo all over the world as a child. He got to experience many different cultures — an enriching experience that wasn’t without its negatives. “I was always playing catch-up,” said Kozo, “learning new languages, changing schools, making new friends, and adapting to different cultures.”

After spending most of his early childhood in Hamburg and Buenos Aires, Kozo did most of his studying in his homeland of Japan. Before his final year of high school, his family was called to America. But finding a school was hard, as very few were willing to take a foreigner with very little English language knowledge. Then, a connection was made.

“An assistant to my father found out about Dwight,” said Kozo, “and Dwight accepted me with an interview. If my memory serves me correctly, that was the first time I met Mr. Spahn.”

Chancellor Spahn found a spark in Kozo that other schools had clearly missed. And, as expected, once he started at Dwight, with the support of the Dwight community, he shined.

“At Dwight,” said Kozo, “the teachers and students alike were kind and always eager to extend a helping hand. Mr. Engles, who looked after me at Dwight, had a great impact on me as a role model. He used to be an executive of a large corporation before coming to Dwight, and I was fascinated by the fact a businessman would become an educator. I always admired his manner of respecting each student. It was an eye-opener. I benefited tremendously from his kind and right-to-the-point advice.”

Kozo graduated from Dwight in 1972, but chose to return to Japan for another year of study in order to attend a Japanese University, an all-but-required step for Kozo to enter his intended industry — Japanese banking — in the early ‘70s. A year later, he graduated from Rokko Gakuin School. But, when he applied (and was accepted) to Hitotsubashi University, he was also greatly helped by one key thing he learned to master at Dwight: writing.

Said Kozo, “Since we hardly had any classes that taught logical writing skills in Japan, the experience at Dwight gave me a basis on which to build upon. In fact, thanks to Dwight, I felt very good after finishing writing an essay for the entrance examination at Hitotsubashi University, one of the very few universities that required an essay. Later, business plans that I have written opened a path for exciting ventures. In this regard, Dwight prepared me with one of the decisive elements of my career.”

His first job after university was with the Bank of Tokyo. But, early on in his career, he felt an urge to start up his own business — though he couldn’t decide what. Eventually, at the age of 45, he left the bank to start a private equity fund management company. 

“I spent seven grueling years finding investment opportunities in the nascent market,” said Kozo, “making investments and eventually exiting. I was glad that we made prudent investment decisions and returned money with profit, albeit small. Exciting and challenging as it was, though, I realized that this business was not for me.”

He moved on to become a consultant for a number of years before landing at a small Japanese accounting firm. There, he had another opportunity to create his own business, using what he had learned with his first startup. When the accounting firm was looking to expand internationally, they tapped Kozo to handle the expansion. Kozo chose Vietnam as the country they would target for the expansion — an untested market which wasn’t many people’s first choice. But Kozo persisted. 

“After on-the-ground and first-hand research gave me sufficient confidence in the potential,” said Kozo, “there was the implementation phase of putting the various practical parts together into a coherent operational company. I was not an accountant myself, but knew a lot about the business that accounting firms were engaged in as a user of such services, and I used that experience to the advantage in spearheading the effort of getting clients and diversifying the business portfolio.”

His final role was at a pharmaceutical company, where he oversaw accounting, tax, business planning, human resources, legal affairs, system, set up of overseas operation, and secretariat of executive and board meetings. It was a role he would keep until retiring in February of 2024. 

Looking back on his storied career, Kozo wonders if his “spark of genius” might be his ability to try new things, despite the risk it had on his career. “Because of this,” said Kozo, “coupled with an aversion for other people dictating how I should lead my life, I have made all the career change decisions on my own.”

Not that Kozo moved forward without gathering the proper knowledge — another spark of genius. “I studied more in my career than in the days of cramming in high school or at the university,” Kozo said, “relearning what I had already learned and learning new things. What is more, I have come to enjoy learning and my interest is broadening.”

Now, Kozo is looking forward to spending time on what he hasn’t been able to in the past: calligraphy, reading (specifically reading unrelated to work or business!), visiting museums, traveling more often, or simply walking in the woods with his dog and visiting with his 100-year-old father.

The itch to launch another new business still remains, with Kozo contemplating possibilities in the AI field. But, mostly, he looks forward to paying what he’s learned forward.

“I have been fortunate enough to have had people who have supported me in various ways simply out of goodwill,” said Kozo. “I am very grateful to them and I think it's my turn to give whatever little I can to help younger people grow. My encounter with the people who helped me was by chance, and I am hoping that I have my chance of helping younger people in the ordinary course of life.”

He’s already paying it forward with this bit of sage advice to today’s Dwight students: “Truth lies behind all the things one sees and hears. Listen to as many people as you can, but, at the end of the day, you judge what the truth is. Think hard, let your thoughts settle overnight, and think fresh again.”

We wish Kozo the best of luck in his retirement…or in whatever business he might start up next!