The Formative Years of the Modern Corporation: The Dutch East India Company Voc, 1602-1623

62 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2012

See all articles by Oscar Gelderblom

Oscar Gelderblom

University of Antwerp; Utrecht University

Abe de Jong

Monash University; University of Groningen; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Joost Jonker

Utrecht University

Date Written: June 23, 2012


With their legal personhood, permanent capital with transferable shares, separation of ownership and management, and limited liability for both shareholders and managers, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and subsequently the English East India Company (EIC) are generally considered a major institutional breakthrough. Our analysis of the business operations and notably the financial policy of the VOC during the company’s first two decades in existence shows that its corporate form owed less to foresight than to constant piecemeal engineering to remedy original design flaws brought to light by prolonged exposure to the strains of the Asian trade. Moreover, the crucial feature of limited liability for managers was not, as previously thought, part and parcel of that design, but emerged only after a long period of experimenting with various, sometimes very ingenious, solutions to the company’s financial bottlenecks.

Keywords: VOC, Dutch East India Company

JEL Classification: O1, F1, O43

Suggested Citation

Gelderblom, Oscar and de Jong, Abe and Jonker, Joost, The Formative Years of the Modern Corporation: The Dutch East India Company Voc, 1602-1623 (June 23, 2012). ERIM Report Series Reference No. ERS-2012-007-F&A, Available at SSRN:

Oscar Gelderblom (Contact Author)

University of Antwerp ( email )

St Jacobsmarkt 13

HOME PAGE: http://

Utrecht University ( email )


Abe De Jong

Monash University ( email )

900 Dandenong Rd
Room H3-56
Caulfield East, Victoria 3145

HOME PAGE: http://

University of Groningen ( email )

Postbus 72
9700 AB Groningen

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

Joost Jonker

Utrecht University ( email )

Vredenburg 138
Utrecht, 3511 BG

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