LBOld: Ancient Targets

There is an old saying about generations of family owners: the first makes the money, the second makes more, the third wastes it all. Buyout shops, in the last ten years, have been trying to alter the maxim to read “the third generation sells to an LBO firm.”

A few companies have resisted both wasting generational wealth and selling out—for now, anyway. The oldest company in the world made it through 40 generations, although it recently was liquefied. That business was Kongo Gumi, a builder of Buddhist temples based in Osaka, Japan, which was founded in 578. The Kongo family liquidated under a heavy debt load earlier this year, selling its assets to Takenaka Corp. Most of the world’s most ancient family-owned businesses are based in Japan, France and Italy.

The oldest family business in America is based in Norwell, Mass. Founded in 1623 in the Ottoman Empire, The Zildjian Co. traces roots to founding member Avedis Zildjian, who found new ways to use copper, tin and silver in musical, noisy ways. The company later relocated to the United States and today is one of the most recognized brand names for cymbals. Ownership remains in the Zildjian family.

Here is a list of some of the other oldest companies, as compiled by Professor William O’Hara, author of the book Centuries of Success.

Hoshi Ryokan

Industry: Innkeeping

Founded: 718

Headquarters: Komatsu, Japan

Château de Goulaine

Industry: Vineyard/butterfly collection

Founded: 1000

Headquarters: Haute Goulaine, France

Fonderia Pontificia Marinelli

Industry: Bell foundry

Founded: 1000

Headquarters: Agnone, Italy

Barone Ricasoli

Industry: Olive oil, wine making

Founded: 1141

Headquarters: Siena, Italy

Barovier & Toso

Industry: Glass making

Founded: 1295

Headquarters: Murano Venezia, Italy

Richard de Bas

Industry: Paper

Founded: 1326

Headquarters: Ambert d’Auvergne, France

Torrini Firenze

Industry: Goldsmiths

Founded: : 1369

Headquarters: Florence, Italy


Industry: Wine making

Founded: : 1385

Headquarters: Florence, Italy

Source: Family Business Magazine