A family business that was founded in 578 closed its doors last year without much fanfare. Kongo Gumi, a Japanese Buddhist temple construction company, was in continuous operation by the founder’s descendants for 1,428 years! A key to success the family claims was to not always hand the reins of the business to the oldest son, instead they chose “the son who best exhibited the health, responsibility, and talent for the job. Furthermore, it wasn’t always a son.” The 38th Kongo to lead the company was grandmother of the 40th, and last, leader.

Despite the company’s history, it was a set of ordinary circumstances that led to its demise. The company borrowed heavily to invest in real estate in the 1980s prior to the Japanese real estate collapse of 1992-1993. Through the 1990s revenue dropped, and by 2006 revenue dropped to the point where it could no longer service the debt. “To avoid a similar demise, evolve as business conditions require, but don’t get carried away with temporary enthusiasms and sacrifice financial stability for what looks like an opportunity.”

I actually found a list of the world’s oldest businesses after reading this story. Now that Kongo Gumi is gone, the oldest business is Hoshi Ryokan, a family inn and spa near an underground hot spring in Japan. It is run by the 46th generation of family members and was founded in 718.


  1. Is there a similar list for companies like iMind??

    #1 by Jimmy — April 18, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  2. Yeah, there’s a list for companies like iMind, it’s called Fuckedcompany.com. Sadly, that site was much better at the height of the boom right before the fall. It’s not that fun to read anymore.

    #2 by Nugget — April 19, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

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