Kongō Gumi began its remarkable history in 578 AD as a builder of Buddhist temples in Japan. The company continued within the same family for 1,428 years until it fell victim to its recently leveraged investment real estate. Faced with potential liquidation to satisfy debt, Kongō Gumi agreed to a buy-out from Takamatsu Construction Group in 2006. That unparalleled run of more than 14 centuries doing business in the same family was the world’s longest at the time. Kongō Gumi remains the oldest continuously operating brand name in the world.
In 578 AD, Prince Shotoku hired Shigemitsu Kongō to construct the Shitennō-ji Buddhist temple in Osaka. This commission enabled the builder to form Kongō Gumi.
The company continued to specialize in the construction of Buddhist temples. It played a major role in the development of Japanese temple architecture. Kongō Gumi used traditional techniques and materials, such as wood, stone, and metal, to create temples that were both beautiful and functional.
Over the centuries, Kongō Gumi participated in the construction of many famous buildings, including the 16th Century Osaka Castle. The company also pioneered the use of new technologies, such as concrete and CAD, in temple construction.
Keys to Longevity
Several factors contributed to the company’s ability to survive all those years:
Buddhism was and remains a stable and widely practice religion in Japan, where its members regularly support it through donations.
Buddhist temples were supposed to last indefinitely. Kongō Gumi not only constructed them, but they also obtained long-term contracts to maintain them. The steady cash flow helped the company in good times and bad.
Kongō Gumi veered away from passing the business from one generation to the next to the first-born male. Those in control would choose the next generation person thought to be best suited to run the company. This included females in in-laws. Men marrying into the Kongō family assumed that surname much as Western women once assumed the last names of their husbands.
For fourteen centuries, management made the correct critical decisions to diversify into other forms of construction when needed. They even made coffins during World War II.
Leaving the Comfort Zone – Sunk by Debt
The tipping point came following the company’s decision to buy a large amount of commercial properties during the 1980s boom in Japanese real estate. The subsequent downturn, and the decline in Buddhist donations, sapped the company’s ability to service its debt. Masakazu Kongō led the company into the 21st century. He had to make tough decisions for Kongō Gumi. While he didn’t cause the problem, it fell upon him to make the best of it. Thus, in 2006, he oversaw the end of fourteen centuries of family control.
- Year Started: 578
- Year Ended: 2099
- Origin Of Name: Name of Founder
- Location Sales: Japan
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Shigemitsu Kongō
- Owner While In Use: Kongō Family
- Owner Successor: Takamatsu Construction Group
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Kongō Gumi
- Naics Code: 236220
- Location Headquarters: Osaka, Japan