That Japan has never produced a world-class business school is something of a national disgrace. The smartest young Japanese managers have always bolted for the likes of Harvard, Wharton, or Berkeley. "They're bypassing Japan," laments Hirotaka Takeuchi, dean of Hitotsubashi University's fledgling Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy. Takeuchi, 55, an effusive former Harvard Business School professor himself, wants Hitotsubashi to be a Japanese Wharton.
Hitotsubashi already has a long history of turning out future captains of industry. Its alums include Bank of Japan Governor Masaru Hayami and Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ) Chairman Hiroshi Okuda. But when Takeuchi launched his program last year, he ditched the university's theoretical approach and replaced it with real-world training.
Now, Hitotsubashi's 50-odd students from Japan, Asia, the U.S., and Africa get more than a drilling in finance, case studies, and simulations. Takeuchi reaches out for "intellectual alliances" with multinationals. Morgan Stanley (MWD ) frees up its database for number-crunching, while consulting giant Accenture has opened an e-commerce lab. Mazda Motor Corp. President Mark Fields, a Takeuchi pal, invited students to his Hiroshima headquarters. "They dealt with sensitive top-management issues," Takeuchi says.
Takeuchi has hooked up with Silicon Valley venture capitalists to evaluate student business plans, which will get funded if worthy. He is looking into an executive training program and plans to double enrollment in a few years. And as a state-owned and heavily subsidized university, Hitotsubashi offers cheap tuition: $4,500 per year, vs. $20,000-plus at Keio and Harvard. It is still early, but Takeuchi may have finally created an Asian alternative for students looking for a top-flight MBA.