Family Business Longevity
William O’Hara, a pre-eminent expert on family business, has created two amazing lists for Family Business magazine of the 100 oldest family-owned businesses in the U.S. and the world. All of the listed companies are at least 225 years old; four have lasted in the same family for more than a millennium. (www.familybusinessmagazine.com.)
America’s Oldest Family Business
The Zildjian Cymbal Company of Norwell, Massachusetts began in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). In 1618, an alchemist named Avedis discovered an extremely musical metal alloy to create powerful, durable cymbals. The sultan named him “Zildjian,” Armenian for “son of the cymbal maker.” In 1623 Zildjian was allowed to leave the Ottoman palace and start his business which continued to be passed on from father to son. In 1929, business was inherited by the only surviving direct descendant male, a successful American candy maker in Baltimore. Zildjian established ties with the hot new African American jazz drummers of the day.” The company is now lead by the fourteenth generation–and first women chiefs in its long history. (www.zildjian.com)
The Oldest Family Business in the World
Japanese temple-builder Kongo Gumi has been in the family since 578. More than 1,400 years ago, Prince Shotoku brought Kongo family members to Japan from Korea to build the Buddhist Shitennoji Temple. Today, the 40th generation of this family builds and repairs religious temples and manages general contracting from its Osaka headquarters And the 41st generation is ready to carry on this amazing legacy. (www.kongogumi.co.jp).
The Future of Family Owned Business
Will family businesses endure in the future? Dr. O’Hara described family-owned business’s inherent fortitude in his book, Centuries of Success. “Before the multinational corporation, there was family business. Before the Industrial Revolution, there was family business. Before the enlightenment of Greece and the empire of Rome, there was family business.” Mom and Pop will continue to be the enduring backbone of the world’s economy.
Lessons in Longevity
Family Business magazine identified four common characteristics shared by the majority of America’s oldest family businesses:
1. Stay small. “The meek shall inherit the Earth” is more than a Biblical platitude; it may actually be sound long-range business advice. About half of our listed companies employ fewer than 15 people, and many have fewer than ten. Only seven of our “largest” family companies (Autumn 2002) also made this “oldest” list.
2. Don’t go public. Offering stock to the public is a tempting way to raise capital, but it’s also a temptation for takeover artists. Only three of our listed companies are publicly traded, and they’re near the bottom of the list (Corning ranks 65th, Anheuser-Busch 88th and R.R. Donnelley 94th).
3. Avoid big cities. Only 27 of our 102 oldest companies are based in metropolitan areas large enough to house major-league sports teams. Of our 50 oldest companies, only seven are located in major urban areas.
4. Keep it in the family. “Blood is thicker than water” is one cliché that still rings true. As a rule, families outlast nations, corporations and other organizations. So it’s no surprise that family firms, by and large, outlast non-family firms. William O’Hara, a pre-eminent expert on family business, has created two amazing lists for Family Business magazine of the 100 oldest family-owned businesses in the U.S. and the world. All of the listed companies are at least 225 years old; four have lasted in the same family for more than a millennium. (www.familybusinessmagazine.com.)