Photo: KnowInsiders
Photo: KnowInsiders

What is a Private Company?

A private company is a firm held under private ownership. Private companies may issue stock and have shareholders, but their shares do not trade on public exchanges and are not issued through an initial public offering (IPO).

As a result, private firms do not need to meet the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) strict filing requirements for public companies. In general, the shares of these businesses are less liquid, and their valuations are more difficult to determine.

How a Private Company Works

Private companies are sometimes referred to as privately held companies. There are four main types of private companies: sole proprietorships, limited liability corporations (LLCs), S corporations (S-corps) and C corporations (C-corps)—all of which have different rules for shareholders, members, and taxation.

All companies in the U.S. start as privately held companies. Private companies range in size and scope, encompassing the millions of individually owned businesses in the U.S. and the dozens of unicorn startups worldwide. Even U.S. firms such as Cargill, Koch Industries, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers with upwards of $25 billion in annual revenue fall under the private company umbrella.

According to a list published by Forbes, the biggest private companies in the United States – and in the world – are Koch Industries and Cargill with 2019 revenues of around $115 billion each. Somewhat behind are business services companies Deloitte and Pricewaterhouse Coopers with $47.6 billion and $43 billion in revenue, respectively. According to Investopedia, this makes them about as big as the biggest non-U.S. private company, IKEA.

Compared with the world’s biggest public companies, Koch Industries and Cargill, however, would only make the top 60. Forbes said that their list of America’s biggest private companies was extremely stable and that 65 percent of businesses had been on the list that comprises 200 some companies for at least ten years.

Top 10 Largest Private Companies in America

Rank

Company

State

Industry

Revenue

Employees

#1

Cargill

Minnesota

Food, Drink & Tobacco

$134.4 B

155,000

#2

Koch Industries

Kansas

Multi-company

$115 Be

122,000

#3

Publix Super Markets

Florida

Food Markets

$44.9 B

227,000

#4

Mars

Virginia

Food & Drink

$40 B

130,000

#5

H-E-B

Texas

Food Markets

$32.8 Be

100,000

#6

Reyes Holdings

Illinois

Food, Drink & Tobacco

$30 B

31,000

#7

Pilot Company

Tennessee

Convenience Stores & Gas Stations

$26.6 B

28,000

#8

C&S Wholesale Grocers

New Hampshire

Food, Drink & Tobacco

$25 Be

13,800

#9

Enterprise Holdings

Missouri

Services

$23.9 B

75,000

#10

Fidelity Investments

Massachusetts

Diversified Financials

$21 B

50,000

What are the 10 biggest private companies in the US?

1. Cargill

Headquarters: Wayzata, Minnesota, United States

CEO: David W. MacLennan (Dec 1, 2013–)

Owner: Cargill family

Founder: William Wallace Cargill

Founded: 1865, Conover, Iowa, United States

Photo: Alpaca Expo Group
Photo: Alpaca Expo Group

Cargill is the largest privately-owned company in the United States with $114.7 billion in revenue and 155,000 employees, according to Forbes. The agribusiness juggernaut has topped Forbes’ annual list of the largest private companies in the United States for 28 of the last 30 years. Founded in 1865, Cargill is involved in the processing, trading, and export of agricultural products. It is owned by the descendants of founder William Cargill and his son-in-law John MacMillan.

2. Koch Industries

CEO: Charles Koch (1967–)

Headquarters: Wichita, Kansas, United States

Founder: Fred C. Koch

Founded: February 8, 1940

Number of employees: 100,000 (2019)

Photo: USA Today
Photo: USA Today

Owned and operated by Koch Brothers, Koch Industries generated $110 billion in revenue in the latest fiscal year making. The Wichita, Kansas-based company was founded in 1940 by Fred Koch. Charles and David Koch each own 42% of the company while trusts own the remaining 16% for the benefit of Elaine Tettemer Marshall. Koch Industries operates in several sectors, including consumer products, refining, fertilizers, chemicals & biofuels, electronics, and commodity trading. It has more than 120,000 employees.

3. Publix Super Markets

Headquarters: Lakeland, Florida, United States

Number of locations: 1,286

Founder: George W. Jenkins

Founded: September 6, 1930, Winter Haven, Florida, United States

CEO: Todd Jones (Apr 30, 2016–)

Photo: Publix
Photo: Publix

Headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, Publix is one of the largest supermarket chains in the United States. The company with 193,000 employees is estimated to have annual revenue of $34.6 billion. George Jenkins founded Publix in 1930. Employees mostly own it. The company operates more than 1,200 grocery stores, distribution centers, and manufacturing facilities.

4. Mars, Inc.

Owner: Mars family

Headquarters: McLean, Virginia, United States

Founder: Franklin Clarence Mars

Founded: June 23, 1911, Tacoma, Washington, United States

CEO: Grant F. Reid (Jan 2, 2015–)

Photo: NS Packaging
Photo: NS Packaging

McLean, Virginia-based Mars is a global leader in food products. Founded in 1911, it has more than 100,000 employees and posted revenues of $35 billion in the latest fiscal year. Mars owns popular brands such as M&M’s, Snickers, Twix, Whiskas cat food, and Uncle Ben’s rice. It also holds the pet food maker Pedigree. The Mars family wholly owns the company.

5. H-E-B

Founder: Florence Butt

Founded: November 26, 1905, Kerrville, Texas, United States

CEO: Charles Butt (1971–)

Headquarters: San Antonio, Texas, United States

Number of locations: 340 (2018)

Photo: Epicurious
Photo: Epicurious

H-E-B Grocery Company, LP is an American privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 340 stores throughout the U.S. state of Texas, as well as in northeast Mexico. The company also operates Central Market, an upscale organic and fine foods retailer. As of 2019, the company has a total revenue surpassing US$31.2 billion. H-E-B ranked No. 9 on Forbes' 2020 list of "America's Largest Private Companies". H-E-B was named Retailer of the Year in 2010 by Progressive Grocer. Supermarket News ranks H-E-B 13th on the list of "Top 75 North American Food Retailers" by sales. Based on 2019 revenues, H-E-B is the 19th largest retailer in the United States. It donates 5% of pre-tax profits to charity. The official mascot of H-E-B is named H-E-Buddy, an anthropomorphic brown grocery bag, with multiple grocery items being shown coming out of the top.

6. Reyes Holdings

Headquarters: Illinois, United States

Founder: J. Christopher Reyes

Founded: 1976

Revenue: 27.8 billion USD (2020)

Photo: The Shelby Report
Photo: The Shelby Report

Rosemont, Illinois-based Reyes Holdings had an estimated revenue of $27.8 billion in the latest fiscal year. It’s a leading food and beverage wholesaler. Reyes Holdings delivers nearly a billion cases of food and beverage products to retailers around the world. It also has a division that supplies food and other items to McDonald’s. The company has more than 31,000 employees.

7. Pilot Company

Headquarters: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Founder: Jim Haslam

Founded: 1958, Weber City, Virginia, United States

Number of employees: 19,000

Photo: PR Newswire
Photo: PR Newswire

Pilot Company was founded by James Haslam Jr. in 1958 in Weber City, Virginia when he purchased an existing gasoline station. By 1965, Pilot owned 12 stations and was selling 5 million gallons of fuel yearly. Pilot built its first convenience store in 1976 and converted the rest of its locations into convenience stores.

In 1981, Pilot built its first travel center and has focused on that aspect of its business ever since. 1988 saw Pilot begin its concentration on expanding its travel center network in a nationwide presence. Also in 1988, Pilot opened its first travel center with a fast food restaurant inside. On September 1, 2001, Pilot and Marathon Petroleum Company formed Pilot Travel Centers, LLC. On July 1, 2010, Pilot and Flying J's travel center chains merged to form Pilot Flying J. The two brands maintain their separate identities in the merged company.

On September 14, 2008, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum issued subpoenas to Pilot for investigation of price gouging in the days following Hurricane Ike.

8. C&S Wholesale Grocers

Headquarters: Keene, New Hampshire, United States

CEO: Rick Cohen (1989–)

Founded: 1918, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States

Number of locations: over 50 distribution centers in 16 states

Photo: Union Leader
Photo: Union Leader

With $27 billion in revenue and 16,200 employees, C&S Wholesale Grocers is the largest wholesale grocery distributor in the United States. It was founded in 1918 as a supplier to independent grocery stores. The Keene, the New Hampshire-based company, has set up distribution centers across the country. It supplies more than 140,000 products to more than 14,000 supermarkets, chain stores, and institutions across the country. Richard Cohen, its sole owner, has a net worth of $11 billion.

9. Enterprise Holdings

CEO: Chrissy Taylor (Jan 1, 2020–)

Headquarters: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Number of employees: 80,000 (2020)

Founder: Jack C. Taylor

Photo: Skift
Photo: Skift

Enterprise Holdings, Inc. is an American private holding company headquartered in Clayton, Missouri in Greater St. Louis. It is the parent company of car rental agencies Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, Alamo Rent a Car and also operates several other transportation services including commercial fleet management, used car sales (through its Enterprise Car Sales dealers), carsharing, and commercial truck rental operations.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car was established in St. Louis, Missouri in 1957 by Jack C. Taylor and the company still has its headquarters in the area and remains managed by the Taylor family. Originally known as "Executive Leasing Company," in 1969, Taylor renamed the company "Enterprise" after the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, on which he served during World War II.

The holding company was formed on August 3, 2009, as a result of Enterprise Rent-A-Car's 2007 acquisition of Vanguard Automotive Group, the former parent company of National and Alamo. The resulting company was 21st on the 2008 Forbes list of "Largest Private Companies in America."

It is one of the three big rental car holding companies in the United States, holding a 33.2% market share, placing it behind the Hertz Corporation and ahead of Avis Budget Group.

10. Fidelity Investments

CEO: Abigail Johnson (Oct 13, 2014–)

Assets under management: 4.2 trillion USD (June 2021)

Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Founder: Edward C. Johnson II

Photo: Wealth Management
Photo: Wealth Management

Fidelity Investments Inc., commonly referred to as Fidelity, earlier as Fidelity Management & Research or FMR, is an American multinational financial services corporation based in Boston, Massachusetts. The company was established in 1946 and is one of the largest asset managers in the world with $4.9 trillion in assets under management as of June 2020 and a combined total customer asset value number of $8.3 trillion. Fidelity Investments operates a brokerage firm, manages a large family of mutual funds, provides fund distribution and investment advice, retirement services, index funds, wealth management, cryptocurrency, securities execution and clearance, asset custody, and life insurance.

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