1,400 Year-Old Business Fails. Will Your Business Last?

Somehow, I stumbled upon an old article from 2007 that was published in Bloomberg Businessweek. It tells the story of the world's oldest family-run business which closed shop.

The business, Kongo Gumi, had been building Buddhist temples in Japan for over 1,400 years. From the 19th century onward the company did dabble in commercial construction, but temple building has always remained the biggest part of their business – 80% of the $67.6 million earned in 2004 came from temples.

Why Did Kongo Gumi Go Out of Business?

Buddhist TempleThink of how drastically our world has changed over the past 1,400 years! Kongi Gumi chugged along that entire time, being led by 40 different family members in the process. So what on earth caused them to go under last decade?

According to the article, the two main reasons were:

1. Japan's bubble economy – During the 80's boom, the company took out massive amounts of debt to invest in real estate. Of course that bubble eventually burst, leaving Kongo Gumi with a mountain of debt.

2. Social changes – Demand for their services dropped significantly beginning in 1998 and social changes led to less temple contributions.

There's no denying that Kongi Gumi must have done a lot of things right to have a 1,400 year lifespan! But the two purported reasons for their demise just goes to show you how much cultures are changing in recent history, and how an addiction to debt can bring down anyone.

How Long Will *Your* Business Be Around?

This story got me thinking… how long will my job will around? Or for that matter, how long will any job be around? Forget about lasting 1,400 years. Are you even confident your job will be around 14 years from today?

I think most would agree the sober truth is that our generation is experiencing more change than any other time in history. Not only am I referring to geo-political changes around the world that have taken place during the past hundred years, but also the explosive growth in technology.

It's hard to fathom that electricity was not a common part of everyday life until the late 19th and early 20th century. Would your occupation have existed before that? I suppose it would have if you were something along the lines of carpenter or farmer, albeit in a primitive form compared to present. But the vast majority of occupations I can think of have only been around a few short decades… or less!

Take my job for example. I run a website – a forum and blog – which revolves around credit cards. Let's dissect it piece by piece and how long each aspect has existed:

Credit Cards – The modern credit card didn't come about until the 50's but as far as being mainstream, it wasn't until the 60's. So my industry – credit cards – have only been around 40 to 50 years. Will they be around for another 40 or 50 years? My guess is yes, but I do believe their form may change; instead of tangible pieces of plastic, electronic versions of cards will be more widely used in the future. I know there’s a lot of hype right now about the potential of using credit cards on cell phones… I don't know about you, but in my opinion phones aren't nearly dependable enough yet to replace what's in your wallet!

The Internet – Under the loosest definition it could be argued the internet is 3 or 4 decades old but I think most people would agree that the modern form of it has existed for around 15 years, max. Therefore having a credit card website basically wouldn't have been possible two decades ago.

Affiliate Marketing – This is how most financial websites are monetized these days. If you're not familiar with the concept, it basically is getting paid a commission to refer a customer. For example, Chase pays me for each person that applies for the Chase Sapphire on my website. Amazon was one of the first to pioneer this type of marketing, starting in the mid-90's. I'm not sure when it began with credit cards, but if I recall correctly, Chase bank was the first to do it around a decade ago and the other card issuers soon followed. That means the ability to monetize my site by promoting credit card deals is a business model that is barely a decade old.

Conclusion: Every component is relatively new and with just one part missing, my business would not work!

Our Jobs: The Past, Present and Future

I've demonstrated how my own job would not have worked at any other time in history, what about yours? Do you think your occupation will drastically evolve in the future, or maybe even become obsolete as technology evolves? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

This article was written by Mike from CreditCardForum.com. This month he’s been busy reviewing hotel credit cards (most recently the Hyatt credit card) however you can also catch him blogging about a wide array of credit related topics.

Photo by ~MVI~


  1. Black Card says:

    I think it would be very interesting if someone wrote an article – or maybe even a book – about the high-flying industries today that will be extinct in a few decades, just like Kongo Gumi.  For example; does anyone really think that land lines for telephones will still be utilized in 50 years?

  2. muspelheim says:

    You almost have to be well-versed in 5 different fields just to compete with some of the geniuses at these Fortune 500 companies today, coming right out of grad school. sigh….

  3. maria aamaik says:

    In fact, the way changes occur is so frightening though it can still be accommodated. One fact to success is knowing and appreciating the fast pace of change and, thinking and working ahead of it. Do not go into any terrain where you lack the required hands-on skills and competency to allow a quick and successful turnaround when it becomes necessary. I think the Japanese company did not build the adequate competencies required to operate in the real estate business although they saw the dwindling fortunes in temple building. Also, some element of risk is good but over-exposure/undue expore is suicidal.

  4. This article brings up some very interesting ideas that I couldn’t agree more with. At 29 years of age, I’ve had 4 completely different careers since graduating from college, ranging from technology licensing, architectural business development, furniture import/export, and most recently in international business for a skincare company. And now I am about to start law school! Why law school, well it’s a service that we all end up utilizing one time or another. The fact is our economy and existing business models are changing at a rapid pace and everyone is feeling quite uneasy with our future prospects.