This paper provides a detailed analysis of the evolving relationship between the British trading company John Swire and Sons and its Chinese partners involved in the distribution of its products, notably sugar. From the nineteenth century, Swire had utilised the Chinese system of the Comprador. The article identifies various weakness of the Comprador system from a management perspective but illustrates that, despite its evident shortcomings, Swire formally continued to recognise the system until the 1930s. However, in line with Jones’ notion of the adaptability of British trading companies, the paper concludes that significant changes in the corporate architecture of Swire had actually begun to be put in place from the early twentieth century. The emergence of a modern, managerially-based system of organisation in Swire before the 1930s suggests that the image of British trading companies as generally undynamic business institutions is of dubious validity
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