Merchants to Multinationals: British Trading Companies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

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This book examines the evolution of multinational trading companies from the eighteenth century to the present day." "While theories of the firm predict the demise over time of merchant firms, this book identifies the continued resilience of British trading companies despite the changing political and business environments of the twentieth century. Like Japanese trading companies, they 're-invented' themselves in successive generations. The competences of the trading companies resided in their information-gathering, relationship-building, human resource, and corporate governance systems. This book provides a new dimension to the literature on international business through the focus on multinational service firms and its evolutionary approach based on confidential business records.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...the study, by illuminating how companies adapt to survive and prosper in different and changing cultural and sociopolitical conditions, is a welcomed supplement to the sterility depicted by orthodox economic models of the firm and illustrates the great strength of historical perspective for economic analysis."—Choice

"This is a splendid book. It not only delineates the trading companies' expansion (and contraction) but also puts that story in the context of the evolving world economy....It is essential reading for every economic and business historian interested in the history of multinational enterprise, in British economic history, and also in where British business fits in the evolution of the world economy....a major accomplishment."—EH.NET

" innovative contribution to British economic history....Merchants is a clear and coherent analysis of an elusive subject."—Business History Review

"In this impressive and important study, Jones successfully balances the use of detailed evidence drawn from extensive archival research with attention to broader questions and perspectives. ... This volume will rapidly become required reading for all those interested in the history of international business; but it deserves a wider audience, especially among those dealing with colonialism and economic development."—Enterprise and Society

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198294504
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/11/2000
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Jones is Professor of Business History in the Department of Economics, University of Reading, UK.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
1 Trading Companies in Theory and History 1
2 Foundations 17
3 From Trade to Investment 45
4 Trading in Crisis 84
5 Concentration and Diversification 116
6 Business Groups 158
7 Governance and Human Resources 195
8 External Relationships 227
9 Natural Resources 250
10 Traders as Manufacturers 288
11 End Game 325
12 Conclusion 343
App. 1 Post-tax return on net capital employed of selected British trading companies, 1895-1998 354
App. 2 Pre-tax return on net capital employed of selected British trading companies, 1948-1998 358
App. 3 Sources for calculations on capital employed of British trading companies 362
Select Bibliography 365
Index 377
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