The Power of the Family Business
Family businesses are the norm, not the exception, especially when viewed across the long span of history. The family is the natural structure for the passing on of occupations, and as trades transmuted into businesses, the family was the natural institution for their inheritance.
Different industries matured at different times into enterprises that could be consolidated into inheritable businesses. Wine and beer may be equally old, but family wine businesses predate family beer businesses by centuries, because large-scale wine production was agriculturally-based—dependent on the ownership of land—and large-scale beer production was industrially-based.
A survey of the world’s oldest family-owned companies by Family Business Magazine gives us a long view of technological and cultural change: from inns and vineyards founded before the year 1000; to makers of church bells, glass and olive oil; to paper, gold and shipbuilding; to woolens, weapons, and banking. Commercial brewing comes late to the scene.
The oldest family company in the world is Kongo Gumi, a firm of Japanese temple builders founded in 578, now in its 40th generation of family ownership. Presumably, rebellious members of the forty-first generation would experience family pressure unknown to the heirs of upstart brewing companies.