A Little Privacy, Please: Finding Private Company Information

livingsocial Toys-R-Us-LogoThe shares of a private company are held by one or a few individuals, and are not traded publicly. In contrast, anyone can buy the shares of a public company. Private companies greatly outnumber public companies. More than 99% of the world’s companies are private.

The Penn Libraries subscribe to several databases with extensive information on private companies. The databases all provide, at some level of detail, company and business descriptions, industry classifications, and executive names. They differ in the range of companies, and executives offered, as well as the financial detail they give. All have distinctive features of value. Over the next few weeks, we will describe several databases that are useful for private company research.


Providing access to more than 100 million company records worldwide, ORBIS is the master index to the Bureau Van Dijk (BVD) suite of databases. The suite draws data from three types of files.


  • Subject Related Files: Zephyr for M&A deals, Bankscope, ISIS for Insurance
  • Country Specific Files:  including databases such as FAME for the U.K., QIN for China, and ICARUS for Canada and the U.S.
  • International Files: OSIRIS, for 70,000 listed companies worldwide

Private Companies with Financial Statements

Most private companies in the U.S. are not required to make their financial statements public. Many other countries, in contrast, often do require private companies to publish financial details of their operations. For example, well over one million private companies in the UK file public financial statements.

ORBIS provides current financial records for more than 9 million unlisted companies worldwide. To illustrate the financial detail available for even very small companies, we have displayed a few Japanese private companies in the consumer electronics manufacturing industry. These are the smallest companies in a group of 360 that have financial statements.

ORBIS Japan private consumer electronic companies small

Selecting Private Companies on ORBIS

ORBIS has several methods of selecting groups of private companies. They include options for selecting:

  • Listed vs. Unlisted Companies
  • Companies owned by an Ultimate Owner
  • Companies owned by a PE Firm
  • Companies owned by a Subsidiary

ORBIS gives up to ten levels of subsidiary ownership for each company. They also provide an excellent online Ownership Guide that helps clarify the often complex problems of “Who Owns Whom”.

ORBIS also allows the selection of company records based on specific national legal forms. China, for example, has some 20 different company legal forms. Of particular interest for China, are the group of “State Owned Companies” of which ORBIS has records for 1.4 million.

Tools of Analysis

ORBIS has several tools for examining a portfolio of companies. Methods of analysis include: Aggregation, Concentration, Regression Segmentation, and Peer analysis.

We show a few snapshots based on the group of private Japanese consumer electronic companies described earlier. These examples use the default variables.

  1. Concentration
  2. Aggregation
  3. Distribution

ORBIS image

This isn’t the only database that covers private companies. In future posts we will go into more depth on our other subscription databases that provide private company information. In the meantime, take a look at our Business FAQ on private companies for more resources on the topic.

2 thoughts on “A Little Privacy, Please: Finding Private Company Information

  1. Pingback: Private Company Research Part II: Corporate Affiliations | Datapoints: A blog from the Lippincott Library of the Wharton School of Business

  2. I regularly use PrivCo. The Bloomberg terminal has barely 400 private companies. Privco has I think 250,000. That’s quite poor odds, from my Stats class anywayy.

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