A forthcoming paper* in the Journal of Financial Economics finds not only that inherited family control is still common in Japanese business, but that family firms are “puzzlingly competitive”, outperforming otherwise similar professionally managed companies. “These results are highly robust and…suggest family control ‘causes’ good performance rather than the converse,” say the authors.
Japan boasts some of the world’s oldest family-run businesses, and many family firms—Suzuki, Matsui Securities, Suntory—break the rule of steady dynastic decline. So how do Japanese firms do it? The answer, says the paper, is adoption.
Last year more than 81,000 people were adopted in Japan, one of the highest rates in the world. But, amazingly, over 90% of those adopted were adults. The practice of adopting men in their 20s and 30s is used to rescue biologically ill-fated families and ensure a business heir, says Vikas Mehrotra, of the University of Alberta, the paper’s lead author. “We haven’t come across this custom in any other part of the world.” Though the phenomenon has been previously documented, its impact on a company’s competitiveness has not.