Kim Gittleson is the North America Business Correspondent for BBC News, covering a range of issues in economics and business for BBC World News, BBC World Service radio and domestic UK news outlets.
Today, multinational corporations from Apple to Exxon hold more global wealth than nations, wielding increasing influence on global affairs and economic stability. Yet despite the growing power of firms, scant attention has been paid to predicting and planning for their potential demise. Can or should a company live forever? Nowhere is corporate longevity more central than Japan, where the majority of the world's oldest companies are based. Nearly 20,000 Japanese firms are over a century old – a stark contrast to the US, where the average lifespan of a US company listed in the S&P 500 index has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today. What are the implications of this discrepancy in corporate lifespan for the US, the Japanese, and the global economy? In 2012, I wrote a well-received article for the BBC News website outlining the issue of corporate longevity. Now, I plan on producing a series for the BBC examining how the life and death of companies impacts local and national economies. This series on corporate immortality will not just chronicle the existence of long-living firms, but situate their longevity in the context of the policies that helped shape their survival. This investigation will hinge on close study of Japanese shinise, or old firms. How have shinise helped or hindered Japanese economic growth, both locally and globally? The answer to this question will have profound implications for Japanese and US corporate policy.