Justin Fox quotes Oxford business professor Colin Mayer riffing off of the seven age of man from Shakespeare's As You Like It.
At first the merchant trading company established by royal charter to undertake voyages of discovery and promote commerce around the world.
Then the public corporation created by Acts of Parliament to engage in major public works and the building of canals and railways.
Then with the freedom of incorporation in the 19th century, the private corporation -- the seedbed of the industrial revolution and the manufacturing corporation.
Next comes the service firm and the rise of the financial institution.
The fifth age is the transnational corporation putting a girdle around the world and running rings around national governments.
Last scene of all that ends this strange eventful history is the mindful corporation -- sans machines, sans man, sans money, sans everything.
Mayer uses WhatsApp as his canonical example of a company with no assets and very few employees and yet a huge market cap (given its $22 billion purchase by Facebook), but just a short while before that Silicon Valley was all abuzz about Instagram for the same reason, albeit a lower price in relative terms.
Just wait until VR goes mainstream. The most valued bricks and mortar and real estate of today are digital. It's a lot cheaper than the real thing, and a whole lot less regulated, too. Tech companies do love their degrees of freedom.