It was the coming of the railways in Victorian Britain that led to creation of the modern company. The need for capital was so great that that investors had to be offered the reassurance of limited liability.
From this start, the authors of The Company (there is an excerpt in The Times today) tell a familiar story. ‘Of the 2,000 cotton firms… only a handful had anything as sophisticated as a marketing department’. The public school disdain for trade added to the low regard for business in society.
There have been some high points. The authors point to Lever Brothers introducing Sunlight, the world’s first branded and packaged laundry soap. This was in 1885. They also admire a few well-run and enduring family firms such as Cadbury. But it seems that, in creating companies, we were fonder of the idea than the execution.