Book Review – The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational

This book by Nick Robins could have been a classic. However, the author lets slip of the opportunity. The timing was also a crucial factor as the book released hjust before the crisis in 2006. If the book was written around the crisis time. am sure the author would have got a much better perspective and publicity. After all, the recent crisis has shows us the evil side of many a corporation, which the book also discusses on East India Company.

This book offers a fascinating account of the forerunner of the modern multinational: the British East India Company (1600-1874). Nick Robins shows how the East India Company pioneered the model of the corporation that we see today. Its innovations included the shareholder model of ownership, and the administrative framework of the modern firm. Global in reach, it achieved market dominance in Asia, trailblazing the British Empire in the East. In the process, the company shocked its age with the scale of its executive malpractice, stock market excess and human rights abuse.

Offering a popular history of one of the world’s most famous companies, Nick Robins shows what it teaches us about corporations today. Ultimately, the East India Company succumbed to popular protest and outright rebellion, first in the Boston Tea Party and then in the Indian Mutiny. For Robins, the Company’s legacy shows how essential it is to break-up today’s over-mighty corporations, introduce new legal duties on corporate executives and establish effective mechanisms to hold companies to account wherever they operate

East India Company remains a topic for continued interest for most people especially in India. India lost much of its glorious past due to this privately held company. There are many books which have gone onto document how the company marshalled by a few highly ambitious people turned a trading company into an imperialist superpower.  The book has a really interesting account of how EIC went about its business and the way it manipulated politics on its rise to the top. The players which shaped EIC to the top and the critics who tried to pull it down.

This book takes a backseat and says EIC was just like a modern multinational of today’s times. EIC was very clear in its objective – make money for the shareholders (we give undue credit to Milton Friedman for this). This is the same passion shared by most multinationals as well. In this grand pursuit of profits, EIC committed some equally grand crimes as well.

There was huge criticism regarding EIC’s actions and by none other than Adam Smith. The author says this aspect of Adam Smith is skipped by most experts. Large corporations are considered as part and parcel of the Invisible hand and free markets world. Smith clearly disagreed and was shocked to see the conduct of EIC. He in a later edition of his Wealth of Nations tome wrote a critique of large corporations keeping EIC in mind.

Where the book misses out is to draw comparisons with modern multinationals in a more detailed manner. There is some discussion in the beginning but misses it in the middle and the end. A more nuanced discussion could have made the book a must read classic.

Nevertheless, an interesting account. And it is a short one too (just about 190 pages)..

One Response to “Book Review – The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational”

  1. 博狗 Says:

    I deleted my Blogspot account some time ago. However, I saved the link from the blog and it appears to still be active. I don’t understand what I did wrong. I cannot get to the blog by typing in the original address, but I can by following the link. I want this thing permanently deleted. Can anyone tell me how to do that?.

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