Why do Japanese family businesses manage to survive for so long? One reason may be that, when they lack a suitable hereditary successor, Japanese families will adopt a promising young adult to groom for the role. Almost always men, these outsiders marry into the family and even take the family name. Suzuki Motor’s leadership is a famous example of this tradition, with the company having been run by four generations of adopted sons.
Adoption of this kind — known as mukoyoshi — is virtually unknown in Western business. But it was well established at Undershaft and Lazarus, the explosive fictional enterprise at the heart of George Bernard Shaw’s bracingly funny play Major Barbara. For business leaders, the play is dynamite.
Why should we concern themselves with this long-ago stage comedy? Because there has never been a more important play about business, and many of its central concerns remain contentious