Adopting Grown Men to “Keep It in the Family”

The three oldest, continually operating companies in the world are all Japanese: Kongō Gumi, a construction firm, can trace its roots to 578. It ran as an independent entity for 1,400 years before a larger firm acquired it in 2006. It remains a wholly owned subsidiary. Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan is a hotel in Hayakawa. It first opened its doors in 705, making it the world’s oldest hotel still in business. Hoshi Ryokan is another ancient Japanese hotel, which launched when its founder, Garyo Hoshi, opened a guest house in 717 on its current site. Since Hoshi did not have an heir, he adopted a son to secure a successor. To date, 46 generations of owners have run the hotel.

Japan proudly protects its unique heritage and traditions. But the country is facing a demographic crisis: The birthrate is dwindling and the population is rapidly aging. According to BBC reporter Mariko Oi, sons inherit the family name in Japanese society. So what do traditional family businesses do in the absence of an heir apparent or in a situation where a son proves incapable of or uninterested in taking over the business? Many patriarchs with that problem take a leaf out of Hoshi’s book: They seek an adept grown man in his 20s or 30s, arrange a marriage with a daughter (when possible) and adopt the new son-in-law, who then takes his wife’s family name. This style of adoption is known as Mukoyoshi and is quite common in Japan. Osamu Suzuki, Suzuki’s current chairman and CEO, “is the fourth adopted son in a row to run the company.”

One reason Japanese businesses achieve such longevity is their attention to succession planning. To prepare your firm for a future without you at the helm, take a look at these titles:


The CEO Within

CEO Succession

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