The oldest member of Les Hénokiens is Hoshi, a Japanese inn founded in Komatsu in 718. Run by Zengoro Hoshi, the 46th generation of the family to be in charge, the firm's motto is unusually practical: “Take care of fire, learn from water, co-operate with nature”. But, according to “Centuries of Success”, published last year by William O'Hara, there is an even older company, also Japanese. Kongo Gumi, founded by a Korean in Osaka in 578, is a builder of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and castles—and now also offices, apartment buildings and private houses. Both are family businesses. The oldest European family business, according to Mr O'Hara and Peter Mandel in Family Business magazine (see table), is Château de Goulaine, a vineyard in France's Loire valley that dates from 1000—and also boasts a museum and butterfly farm. Britain's oldest family business, founded in Huddersfield in 1541, is John Brooke &Sons, a textile-maker that helped clothe Britain's bravest during the battle of Trafalgar and the second world war, but has now abandoned manufacturing and turned its mills into a business park. Not surprisingly, the oldest family firms in the United States are a bit younger. Zildjian Cymbal, of Norwell, Massachusetts, purveyor of cymbals and drumsticks to many of the world's greatest percussionists, was founded in 1623. But that was in Constantinople; the family did not emigrate to America until 1909. A more authentic choice is the Tuttle Farm, which grows strawberries and vegetables in New Hampshire, and runs a small shop. It is currently run by the 11th generation of the family. Ancient, but maybe not commercially
Yet it is not easy to say with certainty whether such examples are really old, continuous businesses or, rather, latterday firms that were once trade associations, state organisations or, say, religious communities that turned commercial at some stage in their lives. Is, for example, Château de Goulaine really a 1, 000-year-old business or a fine...
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