The rise of big business is one of the most important phenomena of the twentieth century. This article reflects on its role in Europe's economy and society. Four aspects are given particular attention. The first concerns the extent to which big business can be considered as a European (as opposed to a US) phenomenon. The second considers the balance between common European characteristics (persistence of family ownership, extent of state involvement) and national specificities (company size, corporate governance, education and training, career patterns). A third part discusses the contribution of big business to economic development, especially the controversies surrounding the ‘Chandlerian’ model, based on the US experience, as well as the discrepancies between business performance and economic performance. Finally, the article warns about the pitfalls of a simplistic ‘cultural’ approach to business history.