Companies that help their communities maintain cultural traditions
do more than spread goodwill—they contribute to their own
success and longevity. Researchers who studied century-old
companies in Kyoto, Japan, discovered that these companies thrive
because of the relationships they have forged with local residents.
In Kyoto, these companies, often family-owned, are known as
shinise. Citizens view shinise as local institutions and imbue their
products with special significance, say Davide Ravasi of the University
College London School of Management and Innan Sasaki
of the Lancaster University Management School, both
in the U.K., and Evelyn Micelotta of the University of New
Mexico’s Anderson School of Management in Albuquerque.
The researchers conducted interviews with 56 owners,
managers, and employees of Kyoto shinise, as well as 33
representatives from the local community. Family-owned
firms in the study represent diverse sectors, from a sake
brewer to a timber supplier. The researchers found that these companies
were valued not only for their efficiency and profitability, but
also for the extent to which they represent local cultural heritage.
“Shinise enjoy a special standing because they are seen not just
as producers of exquisite goods, but also as essential to keep the
local culture alive,” says Ravasi. “That is why the local government
acknowledges and supports them, and their products receive preferential
treatment in shops.”
Shinise do face certain challenges. For instance, their elevated
status and strong ties to tradition can curtail the freedom
of family members associated with these firms. Even so, the
co-authors argue, shinise show that by promoting local cultural
traditions, companies could help preserve their own longevity.
“Family Firms as Institutions: Cultural Reproduction and
Status Maintenance Among Multi-centenary Shinise in Kyoto”
was published online February 1, 2019, in Organization Studies.