Meet the World's Oldest Family Firm

Construction of Shitennoji, one of the oldest Buddhist complexes in Japan, began in the year 593. One of its carpenters, Shigemitsu Kongo, traveled to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Paekche. Today, working from offices overlooking the temple, Kongo Gumi Co. is run by Masakazu Kongo, 55, the 40th Kongo to lead the 1,410-year-old company, believed to be the world's oldest family enterprise .

The UCLA-trained Masakazu says 90% of the carpentry techniques Shigemitsu brought to Japan are still used today. Yet as much as the Kongos value tradition, their firm has survived by being flexible. "Most families automatically choose the...

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