Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Just 34 more generations to go...

We natter on about multi-generation farms. What about a 1400-year old business?
The world's oldest continuously operating family business ended its impressive run last year. Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, in operation under the founders' descendants since 578, succumbed to excess debt and an unfavorable business climate in 2006.
Since I have been writing about succession issues on my own farm, others have chimed in as well. Kongo Gumi offers some interesting ideas we might be able to use to keep our farms going.
Another factor that contributed to Kongo Gumi's extended existence was the practice of sons-in-law taking the family name when they joined the family firm. This common Japanese practice allowed the company to continue under the same name, even when there were no sons in a given generation.
Still, I have recently realized there is something inherently self-serving about multi-generational pride. It borders on the "came over on the Mayflower" elitism that has proven variably useful in American society.

There is also the beyond-the-grave control aspect of long-lived family businesses. All told, it's a mixed bag and definitely not one to sacrifice happiness for.

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