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Avoiding 'negligence and profusion': the ownership and organisation of Anglo-Indian trading firms, 1818 to 1870

Aldous, Michael (2015) Avoiding 'negligence and profusion': the ownership and organisation of Anglo-Indian trading firms, 1818 to 1870. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Debates in business and economic history have focused on the role played by business ownership and organisational forms on the performance of firms, industries and economies. Alfred Chandler asserted that it was the adoption of hierarchical managerial structures and joint-stock ownership which enabled an unprecedented expansion of the scale of business in the late 19th century. This argument is widely debated and a growing literature has looked at the role played by different forms of business organisation, such as the partnership and cooperative, in enabling economic growth. This thesis contributes to these debates through an investigation of Anglo-Indian trading firms between 1813 and 1870. A new data-set of firms operating in Calcutta identified the use of various business forms to conduct trade. In this period the number of trading partnerships increased from 24 to 88, whilst the number of joint-stock firms expanded from a handful in the years before 1850 to over 170 by 1868. In the decade after 1858 the number of hybrid managing agency firms tripled, whilst the number of firms using agents grew from 57 to 183. Drawing on the ‘analytic narratives’ method a novel analysis using transaction cost and agency theories is made of four firm case studies. This analysis reveals that changes in the economic environment altered the transactions undertaken by the firms and incentivised the adoption of different forms of ownership. In turn, the internal organisation of the firms adapted to mitigate costs of agency caused by changes in ownership. These findings show that entrepreneurs sought adaptive organisational solutions to balance an evolving set of trade-offs between transaction and agency costs. Key to this process was the capacity of the partnership form to reduce the costs of agency incurred by firms operating with geographically distant actors. This resulted in the proliferation of the managing agent form. These findings reinterpret existing explanations of the evolution of firms in the Anglo-Indian trade, showing that problems of managing agents at distance remained a key challenge throughout this period.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Michael Aldous
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Roy, Tirthankar and Bakker, Gerben

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