Some families contribute to the community, but other families contribute to the global economy; for instance, the 15 Largest Family-Owned Businesses In The US earn combined revenue worth $1.5 trillion annually. For context, that is worth 40% of the total US budget for 2016, and one family-owned company’s revenue is worth more than the entire GDPs and government budgets of many countries.
There has been heated debate about the dangers of having so much wealth concentrated in the hands of dozens of mogul families, but there are merits to arrangements like that. There have been studies that tried to link family ownership to various economic indicators. For instance, Credit Suisse Research Institute analyzed the financial results of 920 family-owned businesses worldwide. The research institute’s namesake financial institution even has an index that tracks these companies, called the CS Family 900.
The study found that on the aggregate, family-controlled companies generated a return on equity 47% higher compared to the average public company. This is attributed to the relative stability that family ownership brings, granting the company a sharper focus on its goals. However, US- and European-based family firms posted lower returns on equity than average. Credit Suisse analysts cited conservative strategies and broader priorities for family ownership beyond simply financial returns as factors for this lower-than-benchmark ROE. Hence, investing in a family-owned business has its perks and disadvantages.
Speaking of family companies, Insider Monkey also previously released a list of the 11 biggest family offices in the world, another ranking that showcases dominant families in the world of business.
We ranked the biggest family-owned companies in the world based on their revenues during 2016 (with the exception of one company whose latest publicly revealed financial records only include data for 2015), with figures coming from reports and valuations estimated by Forbes and S&P Capital IQ. Revenue is one of the few financial measurements that public and private companies can be compared with side-by-side, as it is definitely harder to assess the market capitalization or valuations for private companies, much less accurately compare them to the capitalization of public companies.
For these rankings, we defined a “family-owned” company as one in which at least one-third of the company’s ownership is held by one family. Some researchers that conduct studies on family-owned companies, including Credit Suisse, put the threshold at one-fifth of the company’s shares, and if that’s the case, certain tech giants whose founders own about 20% of the company would have been considered family-owned as well. However, we opted for the more conservative one-third threshold, because the possession of 30% of the votes in shareholder meetings is sufficient to dominate the general assembly of a publicly listed company. Such control is a hallmark characteristic of the families mentioned in this list, which run the 15 largest family-owned businesses in the US.
15. Reyes Holdings L.L.C.
The food and beverage wholesale distributor, which counts giant fast-food chains as its biggest clients, serves customers throughout the Americas, Europe, and the Asia/Pacific region. Co-chairmen Chris Reyes and Jude Reyes founded the company in 1976. The Reyes family has 100% ownership of the company, which means the $25 billion in 2016 revenue are theirs for the taking.
14. Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (NASDAQ:FOXA)
The company that succeeded in creating a fourth major US TV network and growing a media empire with cable, print, and film assets is just shy of 40 years old. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family control 39.4% of the shares in the company, which took in $28.1 billion in revenue last year.
13. C & S Wholesale Grocers Inc.
The second-largest wholesale grocery distributor in the US was started in 1918 by partners Israel Cohen and Abraham Siegel. Cohen’s descendants fully own the company and reaped $30 billion in revenue last year.
12. Bechtel Group Inc.
The global engineering, construction, and project management firm was built in 1898, and has since been the contractor for the Hoover Dam and the containment work at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, among many other major projects. Bechtel’s namesake family has full ownership of the company, which generated $32.3 billion in sales last year.
11. Mars Incorporated
We are continuing our list of largest family-owned businesses in the US with M&M’s, Snickers, Mars, 3 Musketeers, Dove, Milky Way, Skittles, and Twix that are just some of the treats that the family-owned company has sold to billions. The Mars family fully owns the chocolate giant, which had $33 billion in revenue in 2016.
10. Publix Super Markets Inc. (OTCMKTS:PUSH)
The supermarket chain is the largest employee-owned company in the world. It is also among the biggest family-owned firms, with descendants of founder George Jenkins holding a 68.6% stake in it. The company registered $33.1 billion in revenue in 2016. And now, let’s see what else we have in our list of largest family-owned businesses in the US.
9. Tyson Foods, Inc. (NYSE:TSN)
The chicken dinner you had is likely processed by this firm, which is 72.1% owned by the company’s namesake family. The world’s largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork products earned $36.9 billion in 2016.
8. Dell Technologies Inc (NYSE:DVMT)
The computer giant was taken private in 2013 through a sale to its founder Michael Dell, who owns a 70% stake. Dell has since combined with EMC in the largest tech merger ever. In 2016, the same year that the merger closed, the company had revenue of $54.9 billion.
7. The Long & Foster Companies Inc.
Chairman and CEO P. Wesley Foster co-founded the company, one of the largest privately-owned real estate companies in the US, in 1968 with partner Henry Long. The founder’s families control more than half of the company, which earned $56.8 billion in revenue in 2015 (latest available).
6. Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA)
Here’s another media giant that’s family owned. The Roberts family, which created Comcast, the number 6 in our list of largest family-owned businesses in the US in 1963, own 33.6% of the conglomerate whose assets include the largest cable operator in the US, NBC, dozens of cable channels, and Universal Pictures, all of which helped the company net some $80.4 billion in revenue last year.
The following five companies in this list of the 15 largest family owned businesses in the US each had $100 billion or more in revenue in 2016.
5. Koch Industries Inc.
Koch Industries ranks 5th in our list of largest family-owned businesses in the US. It is the textbook definition of a diversified conglomerate, with businesses in refining and chemicals, process and pollution control equipment, technologies, electronic components, fibers and polymers, commodity and financial trading, forest and consumer products, crude oil, and cattle. Brothers Charles and David Koch control 84% the company, which took home $100 billion in sales last year.
4. Cargill Inc.
The agribusiness giant, the largest private corporation in the US, has operations in 67 countries. The Cargill-MacMillan family hold 90% of the company. Cargill had $120.4 billion in sales last year. And now, let’s see the top three entries in our list of largest family-owned businesses in the US.
3. Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)
The descendants of car and manufacturing pioneer Henry Ford hold 40% of the automobile company, which recorded $151.8 billion in sales in 2016.
2. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A)
Among the companies in this list of largest family-owned businesses in the US, Warren Buffett’s company, which is 40% owned by the Buffett family, has the largest market cap, at $418.4 billion. However, with sales of $209.9 billion in 2016, it had to settle for second place in this list.
1. Wal-Mart Stores Inc (NYSE:WMT)
The supermarket giant had sales of $485.9 billion last year. And the Walton family, which holds 50.9% of the company’s shares, has a big say as to where those sales go for the top company on this list of the 15 largest family-owned businesses in the US.