Egon Zehnder
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How to keep the family business vibrant across generations

If family firms want to sustain their dynamic progress across multiple generations they need to have a professional approach to governance and management – a task that, in its multifaceted complexity, poses a major challenge in terms of leadership. It is all about balancing the interests of the company with those of the family and efficiently exploiting the special strengths of this kind of business. In what follows, the authors describe how the challenges of building a family firm over generations can be mastered.

It was the takeover that proved fatal. Until 2006 the Japanese construction company K.K. Kongō Gumi was the world’s oldest enterprise, a family firm dating back 1,428 years. A 17th-century scroll over three meters long documents the corporate history over many generations. According to this time-honored source, the company was originally founded in 578 A.D. by a carpenter named Kongō, from what is today Korea, to fill an order for the construction of a Buddhist temple in ōsaka. The temple still stands. Over the centuries the family built many more prominent edifices in Japan, specializing in temples and shrines. Masakazu Kongō was the 40th and final family member to guide the fortunes of the firm. Shortly after being taken over by Takamatsu Construction Group, in January 2006 Kongō Gumi was wound up.

Read full article For better, for worse in THE FOCUS edition on Family.

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