Exist Strategy vs. Exit Strategy
April 2, 2015 4:29 PM   Subscribe

The oldest company in the world has been operated by the same family for more than 1300 years and 52 generations. Natasha Lampard looks at Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan and wonders: "What if our 'exits' were bestowing upon someone you love, the thing you have created and crafted with love? What if, instead of focusing on exits, we focused on sticking around?"
posted by DarlingBri (22 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
After I turned sixty, I started thinking a lot about the legacy I was leaving behind at work. It was painful to realize that I've put man-years into work that is now, basically, garbage. Requirements change, vendors come and go, and so little of what I've worked so hard to produce has any relevance today.

After I retire or die, I expect my replacement to look at what I've done and ask, "who was this moron that left me with this junk?"

I could spend the rest of my life sweeping the floor at an onsen and feel proud every day.
posted by SPrintF at 4:42 PM on April 2, 2015 [15 favorites]


On the contrary, I find it easy to imagine that many of Fujiwara Mahito's descendants did indeed consider exit strategies at some point and even actively pursued that.

If they didn't, we wouldn't have J-dramas. Ten episodes of "follow my heart" vs "family business", then an ambiguous ending where the young master goes to Canada to study English. Will he ever return? The special will promise to answer that question, but it won't.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:50 PM on April 2, 2015 [15 favorites]


A lot of older Japanese businesses are continued by the idea of "adult adoption", that is, if your actual kin doesn't seem capable of running the business in the "proper" fashion, the owner will legally adopt their protege, thus ensuring the business's survival, even if it doesn't technically stay in the same bloodline.

I honestly find this more inspiring than the idea that it is a single biological family.
It's like the soul of the company transcends petty concerns like who is related to whom, and became its own thing living throughout the centuries.
posted by madajb at 4:51 PM on April 2, 2015 [25 favorites]


What I'm curious about is how the structure/culture/politics of the family and the company were so effective at suppressing those exit attempts/thoughts for so long?

As mentioned by madajb, I was going to point you to the practice of adult adoption in Japan.
posted by RichardP at 4:52 PM on April 2, 2015


Mod note: Swapped the link to a straight Wikipedia link, as the Wikiwand link behaves erratically.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:06 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Previously, also about the oldest still running family business in the world (but a different one in that post).
posted by effbot at 5:12 PM on April 2, 2015


Sometimes you can really see someone coming near to an important, major realization — in this case, a person apparently steeped in TEDthink edging up to the specific nature and priorities of capitalism as a way of organizing a society's productive capacity and people's priorities, which they'd previously thought natural and universal — that is going to have to result in a major change to their worldview. And then instead of taking the next step they write something like this:

I think of this as longtrepreneurial thinking.

And all you can do is sigh.
posted by RogerB at 5:44 PM on April 2, 2015 [61 favorites]


Punditry.
posted by howfar at 5:47 PM on April 2, 2015


I kinda stumbled when I read this:

"This article reflects what appears to be a widely accepted attitude that to be an entrepreneur, one must have an exit strategy."

...and I thought, "Huh?" Because when I think "entrepreneur", I think "someone who opens a restaurant", and the goal of most restaurant entrepreneurs (not celebrity chefs or restaurant development companies, but regular restaurant openers) is to stay in business, get big, and have the restaurant become a family business. I realize that having an exit strategy is one common attitude, mostly in tech start-ups, but I don't think it's the majority. And then:

"Over the past few months, as I’ve sat in my little office, in the house I call home, working on Webstock"

...ah. Ok, so, yeah, this person is in tech, and web tech at that. And then:

"What would our businesses be like?
What would our communities be like?
And if such thinking were truly celebrated in business, what would its overflow effect elsewhere be?
What would our governments be like?
What would our planet be like?"


Okay, so this person is suffering from the common affliction of assuming that all companies are the same as tech companies. What would businesses be like? Go out and look! Walmart is family-owned. Ford is family-owned. News Corp is. Mars is. Comcast is. Going outside the US, Toyota is. Samsung is. Heck, most of the big Korean conglomerates are.

Things would be like they are now, because that is the situation now, except for the tech industry and a few other industries.
posted by Bugbread at 6:04 PM on April 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


Everyone *does* have to have an exit strategy. That exit strategy may be selling to a private equity fund or a competitor, but it could also mean transferring the company to family members or the employees.

The notion that business owners care about customers, employees, and family is old hat to those of us that actually work with businesses rather than just write jerkoff articles and coin asinine buzzwords like "longtrepreneurial thinking"
posted by jpe at 6:13 PM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's almost like some of you glanced quickly over the article to pick up points to argue with.

a person apparently steeped in TEDthink edging up to the specific nature and priorities of capitalism as a way of organizing a society's productive capacity and people's priorities, which they'd previously thought natural and universal — that is going to have to result in a major change to their worldview.
RogerB

I appreciate you only have the article to go on, but Tash is absolutely not a person steeped in TEDthink. The article is much more about an enunciation of a worldview than about a journey of changing one. And, also, "a worldview", not "the worldview". There's room for a number.


Okay, so this person is suffering from the common affliction of assuming that all companies are the same as tech companies. What would businesses be like? Go out and look! Walmart is family-owned. Ford is family-owned. News Corp is. Mars is. Comcast is. Going outside the US, Toyota is. Samsung is. Heck, most of the big Korean conglomerates are.

Things would be like they are now, because that is the situation now, except for the tech industry and a few other industries.

Bugbread

You might have more usefully quoted this paragraph from the article:

We can choose to remain small. We can choose to devote ourselves to something, and to those we serve. We can choose to do our small things in small ways, which over a period of time, can build upon themselves.

Surely this is success too.


Not at all like ANY of the companies you mention.


The notion that business owners care about customers, employees, and family is old hat to those of us that actually work with businesses rather than just write jerkoff articles and coin asinine buzzwords like "longtrepreneurial thinking"
jpe

I mean, really... "jerkoff article"? You don't have to agree with the article - clearly - but if you can't see the kindness and sincerity with which it's written, I kinda despair. It's not a cynical or hastily written article.

And in terms of a distinction between, those of us that actually work with businesses and [those of you who] just write jerkoff articles if you don't know anything about someone, you might wanna hold off commenting like that. Tash is a successful co-founder of Webstock and absolutely exemplifies what she writes about with her work there.

Disclaimer: I work with Tash. She is a business partner and close friend.
posted by maupuia at 6:45 PM on April 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Tash may be a great person, but "longtrepreneurial thinking" is the most painful kind of tech-industry blather. Most businesses are run like that. Many major companies today are run as family businesses; vast numbers of smaller companies or enterprises in Asia and elsewhere have been in the same family for generations. It's not unique or insightful to posit that it's a good model; it is the model, by and large. The reason tech is different is simply because it is a bubble where people feel like they can get rich. The exit is the strategy because it is a con game. Build up hype, write a "prototype" to convince some sucker that you're worth a billion dollars, and sell ASAP. The end.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:18 PM on April 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


maupuia: "Not at all like ANY of the companies you mention."

Well, no, obviously. Because while there are companies that remain small, and devote themselves to something, and do their best, I can't give you examples you would recognize, because they're small! So of course I picked large, well-known companies as examples. But, sure, if you prefer:
Okay, so this person is suffering from the common affliction of assuming that all companies are the same as tech companies. What would businesses be like? Go out and look! Mai's is family-owned. Niko Niko's is family-owned. Spring Creek Growers is family-owned.

Things would be like they are now, because that is the situation now, except for the tech industry and a few other industries.
Also, on rethink, one of the problems I have is with the "what would X be like" questions. They feel like a cop-out "I think it would be good, but I haven't really thought it out, so I can't provide any examples of how it would be good. So I'll just use a rhetorical question to hide that." I live here in Japan, where there are lots of mom-and-pop passed-through-the-generation companies. I can't see any particular influence this has had on the government.
posted by Bugbread at 7:22 PM on April 2, 2015


I do tend to agree that most businesses have completely internalized the (fairly stupid) mantra of "if you're not growing, you're dying" and when that's a local business, it often means they grow right out of what makes them worth visiting and into Just Another Shitty Business.

This seems especially endemic to local restaurants and retail stores. When I see a favorite restaurant opening a second location, I know it's only a matter of time before it will suck, with rare exceptions.

Few businesses seem to value small, profitable niches.
posted by maxwelton at 7:26 PM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


wow, the snark is high in the comments today.
posted by greenhornet at 8:01 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I guess I'll be the first one here to say "inheritance tax".
posted by Hatashran at 8:09 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Leaving behind some sort of legacy business only burdens your descendants with the illusion that they have some sort of duty to it. Take the exit and leave behind some nice, tasty, multi-generational wealth that they can use to address their own priorities and talents.
posted by donnacha at 8:10 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had thought that the longest running business in the world was Edgbi & Sons of Babylon, financiers of silk road caravans and Persian wars.
posted by ovvl at 9:19 PM on April 2, 2015


You're not far off actually. There are, or were until recently, soap companies in Gaza that existed before the Romans came to Jerusalem. They have been in the family the entire time.
posted by dejah420 at 11:32 PM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are, or were until recently, soap companies in Gaza that existed before the Romans came to Jerusalem.

Cite? Genuinely curious, and google is failing me.

On the other side of the world, the previous known record holder, founded in 578, folded in 2007. (Here's a list of geriatric family concerns, and a brief discussion on how it's done in Japan.)
posted by BWA at 6:22 AM on April 3, 2015


"I mean, really... "jerkoff article"? You don't have to agree with the article - clearly - but if you can't see the kindness and sincerity with which it's written, I kinda despair. It's not a cynical or hastily written article."

But… it's kinda fluffy nonsense and "longtrepreneurial thinking" is toploftical bullshit. I mean, the historical answer to questions like, "I wonder what decisions we would make differently if we inherited the work we do? I wonder what decisions we would make differently if our duty was to pass on the work we do?" is to exacerbate the wealth disparity, create fiefdoms and reinforce unbreakable social strata that pretty much spit on even the theory of individual merit. As alluded prior, many businesses are explicitly crafted with this idea, and it's not inherently a good one, despite the example of one onsen. I mean, what if we returned to the medieval conceptions of immutable social structures? What if you were a thatcher or a fuller because your parents were thatchers and fullers?

The problem with this article is that it starts with opposing something (essentially, planned start-up obsolescence and bubble capitalism) that's got a lot of negative consequences, and then ends up woolgathering about a model based on romantic naiveté that she could have answered by actually looking at how society functioned when that model was prevalent. Instead, she left off at the level of deepity, where she wants to communicate a profundity that's undercut sharply by answering her rhetorical questions.

It's not cynical, you're right. It's not jaded and it does seem to come from a kind place, but it's an article that is best addressed by a short blast of realistic cynicism that should, at the least, cause her to re-evaluate where her thought process has led her and refine her premises and conclusions. The answer to bubble capitalism isn't intractable, immortal family businesses, and there are other ways of thinking about legacy and longevity than assuming that a 1300-year-old family business is both a good and reasonable model.
posted by klangklangston at 5:19 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well I found it a nice antidote to Silicon Valley thinking. I don't think we all have to start family businesses that last for hundreds of years, and I don't think Lampard is suggesting it's the ideal method for everyone, just presenting it as an alternative to what's currently popular. Lately there's been a bunch of tech startups that make a decent product, build a customer base, then sell it all to the highest bidder who lets the product slowly degrade into crappiness while bemoaning the fickleness of the market.

Lampard is saying that maybe we could just make something good with the idea of keeping it good and sticking with it for the long term. A bit like Mathowie, for example. Or maybe Gina Trapani with Thinkup.

Maybe this post doesn't work as well out of the context of a web conference. But as someone who works in the industry I'm pretty damn sick of the get-rich-quick dudebros and am looking for something more sustainable. The Internet can be revolutionary without being 'disruptive' (i.e. substituting a new middleman for the old one). Lampard is just saying what a bunch of us are thinking.
posted by harriet vane at 6:37 AM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


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