For Adam Kasha, success means a trans-Pacific commute.

Kasha started his business, AKASHA Crystals, in the 1980s from his apartment on Detroit Street. (Formed from his name, “akasha” also fortuitously means something like “atmosphere” in Sanskrit.) “I had this display–jars of rocks–in my living room. My first customers were Falling Water and Crazy Wisdom.” A few years later he moved to a house on Second Street, living upstairs with the showroom on the first floor. “And in some ways,” he says, “it’s still that situation.” What’s changed is that he now lives in a condo atop One North Main, while the showroom and corporate offices of his $15-million-a-year business fill the building’s entire third floor.

“We’re the world’s leader in decorative fillers,” Kasha says. “Decorative fillers” these days means pretty much anything Kasha wants it to mean, because he staked out the market, but his best-known products are the glass beads used in vases to stabilize flowers or candles. The higher end of his product line includes polished stones or even semiprecious gems.

AKASHA’s downtown showroom now hosts buyers for big box stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Pottery Barn, and Target. “The vice president of Pier 1’s decorative accessories was just here,” he says. Kasha is torn between wanting to feel like the regular guy he was back when he started his business and like a worldly entrepreneur. He still swims at the Y, and only reluctantly and with several excuses does he admit to flying first class. He proudly holds a lease on a Michigan Stadium luxury box, but quickly adds, “it’s 80 percent tax deductible.”

The biggest change in Kasha’s life is that he now lives nine months of the year in Shanghai, where he owns the export-import company (Crystal River Trading) that sources and manufactures most of the 700 products that he sells in the U.S. His direct dealings with the People’s Republic began in 1997 when he learned that the guy who delivered his dinner from a local Chinese restaurant was an enterprising visiting professor at the U-M, picking up some spare change on the side. He became Kasha’s first Chinese agent, and Chinese products became an increasingly large part of the operation. Kasha fell deeply in love with China, and a few years ago he decided to flip his arrangement in order to directly manage the growth of the Chinese side of the business.

He now speaks fluent Chinese, the result of a rigorous self-designed immersion program, and his office is filled with Chinese art and books.

So where do you get a good Chinese meal in Ann Arbor? Kasha says almost any place, as long as you ask for the “real Chinese menu.” But he’s partial to his neighborhood joint, Kai Garden. “They treat me very well there. They’ve watched my Chinese improve.”

This article has been edited since it appeared in the November 2010 Ann Arbor Observer. The timing of Kasha’s meeting with the enterprising professor has been corrected, and some personal information has been removed.