By Constance A. Dunn, co-CEO of Ghost Rock
Meet the world's oldest hotel - Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, established in 705 AD. This humble building housing 37 hotel rooms, dining, and hot springs has been a mountain haven for Japanese elites for centuries.
What's the secret behind the hotel that has survived wars, economic trouble, and resisted centuries of decay? We have some theories.
Remarkably, the onsen (hot spring) hotel has been run by the same family for all 1,300 years of its existence. This seems unbelievable unless you know about a practice called 'mukoyoshi'.
Business owners that practice mukoyoshi adopt adult heirs into their family expressly to keep the business and assets in capable hands under the same surname. The tradition has ensured the success of major corporations in Japan as 'family-run' businesses for centuries. Once upon a time, wealth could only be passed on to the eldest male heir, so to keep hard-won monies in families with female children, the tradition of adopting son-in-laws and talented employees as direct heirs began.
This is commonplace with businesses as a means to avoid the pitfalls of succession within bloodlines, such as heirs that are not as driven or talented as their predecessors, or who simply have no interest in the company.
Location, Location, Location
An isolated location with a pristine hot spring sandwiched between two mountains is exactly where we all want to be right now.
Apart from being a refuge for the soul, the location of Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is difficult to attack, uninteresting for those looking to pillage resources, and rife with natural beauty. It's no wonder that local legend gives credit to a god for revealing the location to a Buddhist monk named Taicho Daishi.
Preservation Over Growth
Preserving a company over growing a company feels uninstinctive to many American entrepreneurs. After all, isn't the goal of any business to grow exponentially until your brand dominates the world?
That is what we're all taught, if not by instruction, by observation. I've lost count of how many times a client just starting out will expound upon how their candle making company (or other small business idea) is going to go from them boiling tallow in the basement to world domination by next year. Have they lost their grip on reality? No. They are just acting how they believe a business owner should act in America. "Dream big" they tell you.
Our eternal optimism is a virtue, but 2020 has brought us back down to earth. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. In my brief stint studying Chinese medicine and other ancient healing techniques from Japan, and elsewhere, we learned about preservation. This sounds like 'woo' magic to minds programmed with the cold rationalism of Western science, but bear with me here.
We learned about the practical results that come with slowing down, of the necessity of winter, of the acceptance of natural aging processes. Some believe, by accepting these slow organic processes, we (as in humans) can survive the ravages of time and lengthen our stay on earth.
Businesses hold the same power.
Imagine you started your business and the aim of the company wasn't to get rich in your lifetime, but to build a foundation that would last generations, a livelihood that fosters exemplary craftsmanship long after you pass from this earth. I wonder how rich Taicho Daishi would feel looking at his guesthouse 1,300 years in the future - still standing, still operating, still welcoming visitors from far and wide, still achieving simple excellence.
My guess is he would feel very rich indeed.
Happy Holidays business owners. If you're still here, you're doing something right. Let's lift a glass together to preservation.