Of course, the company went through lots of changes throughout its history — and plenty of periods of mismanagement and corruption, followed by public uproar and attempts to crack down. As a result, in 1764, the Company banned the receipt of gifts above a certain value.
This was, Robins points out, “one of the first corporate codes of ethics.”
Money, money, money
In the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, the East India Company’s clerks were some of Britain’s highest paid. And the longer you worked at the Company, the higher your salary rose. In 1815, a new clerk would start at £40 per year (compared to average worker salaries, about £28,590 today ($41,138). But that would rise: an employee working for 11 to 15 years would earn £220 a year (£157,200); after 39 years of service, £600 a year (£428,800).
By 1840, the real income of a company clerk was nearly 12 times more than that of a manual labourer.
Then there were the pensions, which after 1813 were paid out according to time served. A clerk who had been employed for 40 years could retire with three-quarters of his salary – at 50 years, full pay. This was what happened for one Peter Auber, secretary from 1829 to 1836, who entered office at 16, quit at 66 and then lived for the next 30 years on £2,000 per year: compared to average worker salaries, a whopping £895,600.
Those in the highest position – the 24 directors – received a relatively moderate salary by today’s standards of £300 to £500. That was equivalent to about £214,400 to £357,300 today ($308,499 to $514,124). But with so many people trying to ingratiate themselves to the directors, the position itself also had cash value as a patronage: people would give both gifts and cash for the hope of a nomination or a trade deal. “Any attempt to obtain a monetary equivalent was strictly forbidden; but estimates ranged from about £5000 to £8000 per annum for each Director,” wrote William Foster in his book East India House – today’s £5 million to £8.5 million.
That puts it on par with what today’s CEOs make: in the UK, the CEOs of FTSE 100 companies earned an average of £4.96 million in 2014.
Netflix, Virgin Group, Twitter, GE and Glassdoor all have unlimited time off (though this doesn’t always translate to employees actually taking the time they need).
Had they travelled back in time to the East India Company, those same workers wouldn’t have found quite the same treatment. Annual leave didn’t exist in the Company’s early years: a clerk’s time off, generally for something like a personal journey, needed to be approved by the Court of Directors. In the earlier years of the Company, this was mitigated by the fact that there were more public holidays than today.