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Specific legal form of organization of persons and material resources, chartered by the state, for the purpose of conducting business. As contrasted with the other two major forms of business ownership, the sole proprietorship and the partnership, the corporation has several characteristics that make it a more flexible instrument for large-scale economic activity. Chief among these are limited liability, transferability of shares (rights in the enterprise may be transferred readily from one investor to another without constituting legal reorganization), juridical personality (the corporation itself as a fictive person has legal standing and may thus sue and be sued, make contracts, and hold property), and indefinite duration (the life of the corporation may extend beyond the participation of any of its founders). Its owners are the shareholders, who purchase with their investment a share in the proceeds of the enterprise and who are nominally entitled to a measure of control over its financial management. Direct shareholder control became increasingly impossible in the 20th century, however, as the largest corporations came to have tens of thousands of shareholders. The practice of proxy voting by management was legalized and adopted as a remedy, and today salaried managers exercise strong control over the corporation and its assets. See alsomultinational corporation.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on corporation, visit Britannica.com.