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Centennial Enterprises as Sources of Innovation in Emerging Economies

Many less-developed countries and emerging economies have long-established enterprises. They were often founded at times when countries were colonies or had semi-colonial status. They have grown through the twists and turn caused by political upheaval related to national independence and post-independence experiments with nationalist, inward-looking economic policies. Ownership of companies may have changed, as some were nationalised, while others continued as privately owned ventures. Either way, there many examples of centennial enterprises that on the basis of growth in domestic markets are now competitive international companies. Many of these enterprises were in the past important conduits for economic exchanges between the Western and less-developed countries. They were also conduits for the absorption, adaptation and further development of technology, and therefore important contributors to economic growth in emerging economies. Two well-known prominent examples of such centennial enterprises are the Ayala and Tata conglomerate enterprises in respectively the Philippines and India.

However, in all countries there were many smaller enterprises that survived the times in the same way and that performed a similar role in economic development. In China, for example, during the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, a generation of modern enterprises was established in the following ways. (a) Introduction and learning of western technology and management, such as the establishments as part of the ‘Westernization Movement’. (b) Sino-Western cooperation.International co-operated modern enterprises involving tie-ups with foreign firms. (c) Foreign direct investment by foreign enterprises in China. (d) Foreign firms engaging intermediary agents in various ways, who subsequently transformed away from intermediary trade of the compradors. Each type of business evolved in China before 1949 and engaged multi-national companies in some way.

For example, the China Merchants Group (Class a) was established in 1874 as a state-owned enterprise, and now a company in the Fortune 500 list. Hai-Ho Conservancy Commission (Class b) was established in 1897. Its board of directors, general commission and the foreign chief engineers were appointed by both sides of Chinese and foreign governments. In 1949, it was reformed from a public welfare corporation to a state-owned enterprise. After many difficult reformations and innovations, it gradually has global business from the east to the west. HSBC, Jardine Matheson, AIG (Class c) are that were built by foreigners in prewar China, experienced a rapid development, and finally became multi-national companies with headquarters in Hong Kong or Shanghai. AIG was a typical case of business localization. They quit the China market after 1949, but gradually returned to China to invest and extend its business after 1992. These enterprises have over 100 year’s history, and in each case, enterprises still survived in some form in China until today, even became competitive international companies.

The experience of those enterprises is fairly common in virtually all less-developed countries. Such types of enterprises also exist in other emerging economies. They may be as large or smaller, and their operations may be more or less international. In broad terms, they often experienced three phases of development. (a) Establishment and learning phase in the early 20th century. (b) Stagnation and transformation phase in the mid-20th century, as many enterprises were nationalised as part of economic nationalist policy agendas pursued in less-developed countries following independence. (c) Privatisation in some cases, but particularly change from imitating to independent innovation, and gradually penetrating global markets to become competitive international companies by the late 20th century.

This session intends to discuss the development of such enterprises in the changing business contexts of emerging economies around the world. Participants in the session will discuss and compare, for example, the transformation of individual enterprises during different time periods, the influence of colonization and decolonisation on companies, and the historical and institutional background of innovative capabilities of these companies. The ultimate aim of the session is to facilitate generalisations of the evolution of such enterprises, and their role in fostering innovation and therefore economic growth in emerging economies. We welcome both case-specific studies in business history and macro-level studies that link enterprise development to innovation and economic growth throughout the 20th century.

Keywords: centennial enterprises, foreign investment, technology transfer, innovation, economic development


  • Denggao LONG, Tsinghua University,, China
  • Morris L. BIAN, Auburn University,, USA
  • Pierre van der Eng, Australian National University,, Australia

Session members

  • Zhiwu Chen, Yale University,
  • Ying Lowrey, Tsinghua University,
  • Howard LIN, Ryerson University,
  • Wei YI, Tsinghua University,
  • Gordon CHEUNG, Durham University,
  • Jinwu XIONG, China University of Political Science and Law,
  • Liang Zhao, China Academy of Social Science,
  • Ning GONG, Tsinghua University,
  • Chaoqun GAO, China Academy of Social Science,
  • PeiDe Li, Hong Kong University,
  • Jianying Li, NanKai University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Michael Yuan, Roger Williams University ,
  • Morris L. BIAN, Auburn University,
  • Pierre van der Eng, Australian National University, Australian National University

This panel has Call for Papers open.
If you are interested in participating, please contact the panel organizer(s) to submit a proposal.

  • Denggao LONG, Tsinghua University,, China
  • Morris L. BIAN, Auburn University,, USA
  • Pierre van der Eng, Australian National University,, Australia