Business & Career Library

Business Resources: Company Research

How Do I Research a Company?

Begin your search by determining if the company is privately held, publicly held, a subsidiary or a division. An easy way to do this is by using LexisNexis Corporate Affiliations (available at the reference desk) or ReferenceUSA . If the company is publicly held, you will find a lot of free information, because publicly held companies must keep their shareholders informed of their financial position. However, if the company is privately held, or a subsidiary or division, you may find very little information.  

Other company directories to use include  D & B Million Dollar Directory and Ward's Business Directory (available at the reference desk) or Business & Company Resource Center. Each of these resources will give basic information about the company including address, sales, officers and industry classification.  

Now that youve identified your company by name and type, youre ready to proceed.

How Do I Research a Public Company?
How Do I Research a Private Company?
How Do I Research a Subsidiary or a Division?

 

How Do I Research a Public Company?

A wealth of information is available on publicly held companies, because they are legally required to keep the business world informed about their financial position. They must publish an annual report for their shareholders (usually available on the company website) and file a 10-K report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Reading these documents is a good way to start your research. Since the annual report and 10-K contain detailed financial data that can be difficult to interpret, the serious researcher may want to search the Library Catalog for books on how to read a financial statement. However, some important parts of the annual report, such as the opening letter to shareholders, the financial highlights that follow, and the independent auditors report at the end are easily understood and should not be missed.

Plunkett Research Online (available only in the Business Library with the assistance of a librarian) identifies companies by industry and offers a wealth of information on the industry as well. It profiles the major companies within numerous industry groups, providing business summaries and financial information. In addition, you can find extensive information on the companys industry, including statistics, associations and market research. 

You may want to visit the companys website. Keep in mind that, like the companys annual report, the companys website is designed to show it in the best possible light. 

A good way to proceed in your research is to use an investment service. Investment services are designed to advise investors on good stock purchases. Value Line Investment Survey is one of the most respected services. It provides in-depth coverage of more than 1,700 stocks. Each one-page report contains a short analysis summarizing the companys prospective performance as an investment, as well as figures and charts indicating the value of the companys stock.

Yahoo! Finance provides some of the same stock information without the ratings and advice of an investment service. 

At this point in your research, youll have a good idea about the companys current status. To round out your research, its a good idea to delve deeper into the companys history. Hoover's Handbook of American Business features 750 major U.S. publicly held companies. Each profile features a concise company history, as well as a chart of historical financial information. Likewise, Hoovers Handbook of of Private Companies does much the same for privately owned companies. Hoovers also offers a free website (www.hoovers.com), which covers more companies, but does not provide as much information. For a more detailed history, use the International Directory of Company Histories. Each profile is several pages long, covering the entire history of the company. This reference book is also available through Business & Company Resource Center. To search for company histories in this database you should select "advanced searchm," then "histories" as the "content area."

Dont forget that books are written about many well-known companies or the people who run them. Many books cover the entire history of a company, while others discuss major company events. The Library Catalog will help you identify these books. 

So far, much of the information you've looked at has been of a factual nature. Where do you go to find more sensitive information like criticism about the company or its officers, legal proceedings the company may be involved in, or predictions of future activity? This type of information is critical to fully rounded research of a company. Periodical and newspaper articles will provide timely information of this nature. ABI/INFORM Research provides the full text of thousands of business periodicals and newspapers. ABI/INFORM Research provides access to the full text of Wall Street Journal articles. The Business Library also subscribes to more than 600 business and trade journals, which can be identified using the Library Catalog.

How Do I Research a Private Company?

Since a privately held companys financial position does not have to be disclosed to the public, it is often difficult to find information about it. Large private companies are usually profiled in company directories, but when financial data like sales figures are provided, they are usually only estimates. Sometimes the only information youll be able to find on small private companies is their address and phone number.

D & B Million Dollar Directory and Ward's Business Directory (available at the reference desk) or Reference USA (available online) are resources that cover some privately held companies and will give basic information about the company including address, and sometimes sales estimates, owner or chief officer, and industry classification.  

Specialty directories are a very good place to look for information on private companies. They are published by type of product, industry or geographic location. The Business Library holds many directories of this nature. For example, some industries, like management consulting, are mostly comprised of private companies. The Business Library holds the Consultants and Consulting Organizations Directory. The Business Library also holds state directories. For example, we hold the New York Manufacturers Directory or the Harris Illinois Industrial Directory. If the company is a manufacturer try ThomasNet

Visiting the companys website may reward you with more information. Large private companies may have a substantial website. The resources youve already looked at may have provided the companys Web address, but you can also search using one of the large search engines like Google. Contacting the company, either by phone, through their Web site or by writing to their customer relations department and requesting information, sometimes pays off.

By now you may have gathered some information about the companys current status. If the company youre researching is one of the larger, well-known firms, you should be able to round out your research by examining its history. Hoovers Handbook of of Private Companies profiles more than 900 private companies. The online version is Hoovers Company Profiles. Each profile features a concise company history, a chart of historical financial information, and a list of officers and competitors. Hoovers Company Capsules covers more companies, but does not provide as much information. For a more detailed history, use the International Directory of Company Histories. Each profile is several pages long, covering the entire history of the company. 

Dont forget that books may be written about some of the more well-known companies or the people who run them. Many books cover the entire history of a company, while others discuss major company events. The Library Catalog will help you identify these books. 

At this point you may have found very little information about the company, especially if its not one of the larger private companies. One of the most important steps in the research of a private company is to search for periodical articles. Sometimes this is the only way to find out about a private company.  ABI/INFORM Research provide the full text of articles from nearly 20,000 business titles. The Business Library also subscribes to about 600 business and trade journals, which can be identified using the Library Catalog, and we have the entire run of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. 

Smaller private companies are sometimes mentioned in regional newspapers or magazines, which can be found through the same electronic resources.  The Business Library holds several Crain Publications that cover particular regions or industries and often contain special issues that include private companies.  

How Do I Research a Subsidiary or Division?

Subsidiaries and divisions can have both publicly-held and privately-held parents. Even if their parent is a public company, a subsidiary or division is difficult to research because it is not required to publish an annual report or 10-K. However, if the parent company is publicly held, its annual report or 10-K may have information about the subsidiary or division buried in it. 

Sometimes the only way to research a subsidiary or division is to research the parent company. By now you should have used LexisNexis Corporate Affiliations to determine where the subsidiary or division fits into the parent companys hierarchy. Follow the steps outlined in How Do I Research a Public Company? or How Do I Research a Private Company? to gather information about the subsidiary or division. Keep in mind that searching for periodical articles, as described in these sections, is often one of the most successful ways of finding information on subsidiaries and divisions.