Thinking about Multi-National Corporations

The other day, I posted a quote from Fred Wilson, a VC in New York. Fred applauded European start ups for thinking global from day one. This got me thinking a bit about “global thinking” in the corporate world. When did it get started.

I had thought that the first truly global operations were privately financed ocean explorations. In fact, these were more “project finance” deals, where investors got paid off if and when the ships returned. When you think of ongoing operations, I thought of mining companies. They had no choice, for example, to find copper where ever they could.

But today I bumped into an idea form Peter Drucker

The modern multinational corporation was invented in 1859. Siemens invented it because the English Siemens company had grown faster than the German parent. Before the Second World War, IBM was a small maker, not of computers, but of adding machines. They had one branch in England, which was very typical for the era. In the 1920s, General Motors bought a German and English and then Australian automobile manufacturer. The first time somebody from Detroit actually visited the European subsidiaries was in 1950. A trip to Europe was a big trip. You were gone three months. I still remember the excitement when the then head of GM went to Europe in the 1920s to buy the European properties. He never went back.

We have come a long way! And we have a long way to go!

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