January 21, 2013
Adopt a boss
Muko-iri (or muko-youshi) marriage, according to which the groom is adopted into the bride's family, comes up in The Path of Dreams and Serpent of Time, in settings 600 years apart. The practice is alive and well in modern Japan.
The Economist reports that muko-iri marriage is a major reason behind the continuing success of some of the world's oldest family-run businesses, such as Suzuki, Matsui Securities, and Suntory.
Last year more than 81,000 people were adopted in Japan, one of the highest rates in the world. But, amazingly, over 90 percent 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.
While family firms typically face dynastic decline as control passes from one generation to the next, family firms remain "puzzlingly competitive" in Japan by tapping into the best of both worlds.
Some families will even bypass a biological son for an adopted one. In theory, this gives family businesses access to the same-sized talent pool as a professionally managed firm would have, and may even induce a sturdier work ethic among biological children.
A "promotion" based on a one-off event like a marriage additionally skirts reactionary boardroom cultures that often paralyze Japanese corporations. Five centuries ago, along with de facto polygamy, adoption also helped shoguns avoid the Henry VIII problem.
Although when Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the second of the three great 16th century military dictators, unexpectedly produced an heir late in life, he eliminated his adopted sons from the inheritance picture with the half-mad ruthlessness of Shakespeare's Richard III.