This study looks at the hitherto unexamined accounting and financial arrangements that undergirded the management of J & P Coats Ltd, one of Britain's largest and most successful multinational companies, from 1890 to 1960. Four elements of Coats' financial systems are scrutinized: consolidation accounting, the control and funding of subsidiaries, private ledgers and, finally, management accounting practices. The contribution of each to detailed organizational control and the maintenance of secrecy/ confidentiality is analysed. The article concludes that each element contributed substantially to these objectives. The study has implications for the debate on British entrepreneurial failure, in which it is alleged by some writers that Britain's family-owned holding and subsidiary-type companies did not achieve their potential. It makes it clear that Coats was highly successful, in part due to its tight accounting systems and controls. The study opens up the possibility that other examples may be found where successful British businesses based on family capital relied on similar management and accounting controls.