“I believe that God gives the momentum of the times as an aid to those who grasp prophetic manifestations and seize upon those moments to create a new business. I believe as well that God gives these same individuals social responsibility, a mission to contribute to the world at large.” — Isao Okawa
On Friday, March 9, 2001 Japanese businessman and philanthropist Isao Okawa passed away from a heart attack. The 74 year-old executive oversaw the operation of more than 90 companies, including the CSK Corporation, SEGA Enterprise Ltd., and the New Business Conference. But perhaps his most lasting accomplishment comes in the form of the Okawa Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to improvements in information technology and telecommunications research.
Okawa was born in Osaka, Japan in 1926, the second son a textile wholesaler. He graduated from the Electric Department of the Engineer School of Waseda University in 1948, but was soon struck down by pulmonary tuberculosis and confined to a bed for nearly eight years. The rapid advancement in medical research in post-war Japan allowed Okawa to resume a normal life, but his years of suffering undoubtedly contributed to his extraordinary generosity in later life.
In 1967, Okawa founded an IT services company called CSK Corporation. Almost immediately successful, Okawa nurtured CSK as it expanded to Tokyo, and in 1982 was the first company of its kind to be listed on the Nikkei. Later, Okawa changed his focus to the CSK Group, a conglomerate consisting of more than 90 national and international companies, including SEGA Enterprises Ltd.
A man of constant vision, Okawa oversaw SEGA as it helped to push the videogames industry from a novelty sector to an international business with billions of dollars per year in revenue. However, Okawa’s leadership was not able to save SEGA’s hardware division from the realities of the market, and in January 2001 SEGA announced that it would cease production of the Dreamcast, and instead focus on software. In a surprising move, to calm investors Okawa returned to SEGA his entire personal stake in the company as well as other valuable assets in the amount in excess of $700 million dollars.
But such generosity was a matter of routine for Okawa. In 1998 he bestowed upon the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a $27 million donation to establish the Okawa Center for Future Children. “He was an intelligent man with deep pockets and a sunny disposition,” remembers Curt Feldman, a veteran games journalist, “and he was a great leader for the videogames industry.”
Larry Probst, Electronic Arts’ Chairman and CEO, in response to the news said: “I’m deeply saddened by the passing of my friend and colleague Isao Okawa. Okawa-san will be remembered as a pioneer and visionary in our industry. His contribution made interactive games a global phenomenon and changed the course of entertainment forever. We will miss him dearly.”
And Chris Charla, former Editor-in-Chief of Next Generation magazine recalled Okawa as both giving and smart. “His annual Okawa Foundation Awards recognized significant advances in the sciences. And under his leadership, Sega grew to be the company with the best reputation on the planet for always delivering fun, and consistently innovative games. I think in the years to come we will find that his vision was truly pioneering.”