National Trade Companies are unique organizations in Rulers of the Sea. There are eight such companies active in 1750 at the start of the game. These companies are not the same as the Joint Stock Companies that gamers can own, as they do not hold businesses but territory. In effect, National Trade Companies are a form of outsourced government.
The Trade Companies are typical for north-western Europe and they are owned by Britain, the United Provinces, France and Denmark. More nations had such companies in the past, but they failed financially.
The Trade Companies all own and govern one or more ports around the world, but they own them in the name of the Nation they represent. That Nation owns a majority of the stock of the company and their Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) sits on the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors appoint the Director General, the leader of the Trade Company. This way the Nation’s government decides who leads the Trade Company and can sack a Director General at any time.
A Director General governs the Trade Company like a nation, and appoints other gamers in management positions similar to a government’s Cabinet. The Trade Company also has its own Army and Navy and collects taxes, which in part they pass on to their owner Nation. The stock of the Company has value and can be traded on the Stock Market.
A Trade Company is an international organization, and all staff, including the Director General, can be hired from any nationality that is not at war with the owner Nation of the Company. This makes Trade Companies the perfect organizations to rule over lands in different time zones. They can employ local gamers and it would not be unusual that, for instance, Asian gamers largely dominate the Dutch East India Company.
Trade Companies are strange entities. Only by appointing the Director General, does the owner Nation have control. What is really happening within the Company will be hard to know, and Trade Companies can be a considerable power, in some cases larger than their owner Nation. A Company that controls their own Army and Navy is not to be trifled with. However, a Trade Company cannot conduct diplomacy and is subject to the wars and treaties their owner Nation commits to. Their owner Nation will probably not care too much what the Company does as long as they fill the treasury with money.