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Paula De la Cruz-Fernandez

A multinational corporation is a multiple unit business enterprise, vertically managed, that operates in various countries, called host economies. Operations beyond national borders are controlled and managed from one location or headquarters, called the home economy. The units or business activities such as manufacturing, distribution, and marketing are, in the modern multinational as opposed to other forms of international business, all structured under a single organization. The location of the headquarters of the multinational corporation, where the business is registered, defines the “nationality” of the company. While United Kingdom held ownership of over half of the world’s foreign direct investment (FDI), defined not as acquisition but as a managed, controlled investment that an organization does beyond its national border, at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States grew to first place throughout the 20th century—in 2002, 22 percent of the world’s FDI came from the United States, which was also home to ten of the fifty largest corporations in the world. The US-based, large, modern corporation, operated by salaried managers with branches and operations in many nations, emerged in the mid-19th century and has since been a key player and driver in both economic and cultural globalization. The development of corporate capitalism in the United States is closely related with the growth of US-driven business abroad and has unique features that place the US multinational model apart from other business organizations operating internationally such as family multinational businesses which are more common in Europe and Latin America. The range and diversity of US-headquartered multinationals changed over time as well, and different countries and cultures made the nature of managing business overseas more complex. Asia came strong into the picture in the last third of the 20th century as regulations and deindustrialization grew in Europe. Global expansion also meant that societies around the world were connecting transnationally through new channels. Consumers and producers globally are also part of the history of multinational corporations—cultural values, socially constructed perceptions of gender and race, different understandings of work, and the everyday lives and experiences of peoples worldwide are integral to the operations and forms of multinationals.

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The first half of the 20th century saw extraordinary changes in the ways Americans produced, procured, cooked, and ate food. Exploding food production easily outstripped population growth in this era as intensive plant and animal breeding, the booming use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and technological advances in farm equipment all resulted in dramatically greater yields on American farms. At the same time, a rapidly growing transportation network of refrigerated ships, railroads, and trucks hugely expanded the reach of different food crops and increased the variety of foods consumers across the country could buy, even as food imports from other countries soared. Meanwhile, new technologies, such as mechanical refrigeration, reliable industrial canning, and, by the end of the era, frozen foods, subtly encouraged Americans to eat less locally and seasonally than ever before. Yet as American food became more abundant and more affordable, diminishing want and suffering, it also contributed to new problems, especially rising body weights and mounting rates of cardiac disease. American taste preferences themselves changed throughout the era as more people came to expect stronger flavors, grew accustomed to the taste of industrially processed foods, and sampled so-called “foreign” foods, which played an enormous role in defining 20th-century American cuisine. Food marketing exploded, and food companies invested ever greater sums in print and radio advertising and eye-catching packaging. At home, a range of appliances made cooking easier, and modern grocery stores and increasing car ownership made it possible for Americans to food shop less frequently. Home economics provided Americans, especially girls and women, with newly scientific and managerial approaches to cooking and home management, and Americans as a whole increasingly approached food through the lens of science. Virtually all areas related to food saw fundamental shifts in the first half of the 20th century, from agriculture to industrial processing, from nutrition science to weight-loss culture, from marketing to transportation, and from kitchen technology to cuisine. Not everything about food changed in this era, but the rapid pace of change probably exaggerated the transformations for the many Americans who experienced them.