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This company has been running since 578AD

Kongo-Gumi has done business for 1,442 years. (Images: Getty, Kongo-Gumi)

When last month Yahoo Finance revealed the oldest companies in the world, the brand at the top of the league ladder raised eyebrows.

Incredibly, Japanese firm Kongo-Gumi was established in the year 578AD – that's 1,442 years ago.

It's an incredible feat considering one-in-three businesses fail within the first two years, according to JP Morgan, and only half survive to the five-year mark.

And even those companies that built themselves large enough to float publicly have an average lifespan of about 20 years.

What does Kongo Gumi do?

Kongo-Gumi is a construction firm founded by Korean carpenter Shigemitsu Kongo, who was called out to Japan to build Buddihst temples.

This is what the company had continued doing through the centuries, as it survived as a family-owned entity all the way until 2006.

According to Bloomberg, Kongo-Gumi started dabbling in commercial construction in the 19th century. But as of 2004, 80 per cent of revenues still came from temple building, maintenance and restoration projects.

In 2006, financial troubles saw it bought out by Takamatsu Construction Group, which has retained the organisation as a wholly owned subsidiary.

How did it last so long?

Temple building was a relatively stable industry in a country like Japan. But the quality of work also seems to have been a factor in Kongo-Gumi's resilience.

"A new worker could expect to undergo ten years of apprenticeship to perfect the techniques demanded by the work," reports the Works That Work blog.

"And another ten years of training to become a master carpenter." 

The 32nd chief executive, Yoshisada Kongo, left a company creed named Shokuke kokoroe no koto in the 19th century.

It declared Kongo-Gumi's staff must also keep up with reading and arithmetic, as these are "the skills that carpenters need the most".

"In addition, the craftsmen were organised into kumi, workgroups that often competed among themselves to prove which one produced the best work."

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