The First Corporations

The History of Modern Organizations — PART I.

Patrick Heller
4 min readJun 23


People have been working since the dawn of our time. Whether it was hunting or gathering, farming or nursing, warring, or leading, work has always been there. But, work has changed over time. With the discovery of fire, the creation of tools, and the ever-increasing complexities of our human societies, labor has evolved for most humans.

Understanding the Why

If we would focus solely on today’s modern workplace — the one you are probably familiar with — we would be missing out on why things came to be as they currently are. To better understand the current, it definitely helps to understand the past. Thus, a brief dive into history, similar to the previous articles about psychology, will aid in comprehending psychological insights into the way things happen in your work environment today.

Let me be frank about the scope of this all-too-brief overview of the history of work. No doubt I will be skipping numerous significant influential persons as well as events, but these articles are not intended as an all-encompassing encyclopedia of sorts. I will touch on topics that I see as highly influential still to this day, and therefore important to understand.

East India Companies

Every era has had its radical changes in labor. Imagine the time when the wheel was invented and its effect on what could be done in a day’s work. Imagine the invention of boats and what it brought and changed in our lives. Let’s skip a few millennia and imagine the huge ocean-faring ships that went from Europe to Asia and brought back spices and other valuable merchandise — which resulted in enormous European wealth.

We start our story here — around the year 1600 — because the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company were the world’s first multinational corporations. They pioneered features that later became textbook characteristics of modern corporations — permanent capital, legal personhood, separation of ownership and management, limited liability for shareholders and for directors, and tradable shares.

From a psychological perspective, this is important. It meant that the managers were not the owners of the company…



Patrick Heller

Agile Coach ★ Author ★ Speaker