Our study focuses on one of the first organisations to combine state and commercial logics: the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC) which existed from 1602 to 1799. In 1670 the former director of the VOC, Coenraad van Beuningen, wrote that the VOC was a company ‘not just of commerce but also of state’ (Gaastra, 2013, p. 58). This had already been the case since 1602 when the VOC established itself as a national trading company assembled out of a variety of former trading companies to create a Dutch monopoly of trade from the East adopted by the state and using investments from shareholders (Gaastra, 2013). Thus, from the first day on, the VOC needed to secure the support from different internal and external parties: the directors of the VOC, the shareholders and the States General. Gelderblom et al. (2010, p. 16) confirm the VOC’s hybrid character from its foundation onwards: ‘The charter and the preamble . . . highlight the VOC’s character as a hybrid: a private commercial company with superimposed public responsibilities’. Never before had a company organised itself this way. As a result the VOC could not follow a ‘ready-to-wear’ model to deal with the tensions between the logics the company had to combine (see Battilana and Dorado, 2010). ‘The contradiction between merchant and king, which had characterized the VOC from the beginning, became more and more pressing’ (Gaastra, 2013, p. 59). Hence our first research question is: how did the VOC respond to the conflicting logics of state and commerce? We address this question in the research findings below. The most important assumption of this study, then, is that the Dutch East India Company was a hybrid organisation. The overview undertaken by the Dutch historian Gaastra (2013) provides a clear indication for this. As a ‘new hybrid’ it had to develop and maintain its hybrid nature itself over a long period of time under enduring conflicting demands. Hybrid organisations are gaining prevalence in today’s societies (Battilana and Lee, 2014). These hybrid organisations can be found in a broad range of sectors, for example in healthcare, elderly care, education, social housing, microfinance, transport and waste management (Brandsen and Karré, 2011). A key feature of hybrid organisations is that they ‘belong’ to ‘overlapping sectoral segments’ (Seibel, 2015, p. 697). As such, they are not exclusively part of the private sector or public sector but are governed by the ‘principles’ of multiple sectors (Billis, 2010). As a result, hybrid organisations often ‘involve a variety of stakeholders, pursue multiple and often conflicting goals and engage in divergent or inconsistent activities’ (Mair et al., 2015, p. 713). Our historical analysis can serve to reflect on how ideas about hybridity help to understand the VOC history, an issue to which we return in the discussion section of this chapter.
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