Closely-Held vs Publicly-Held Business

Cite this article as: Jason Mance Gordon, "Closely-Held vs Publicly-Held Business," in The Business Professor, updated January 12, 2015, last accessed March 30, 2020,
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Closely held and Publicly Held Business Entities
This video explains what is a closely-held business and what is a publicly-held business entity.

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What is the difference between a “closely-held company” and a “publicly-held company”?

Business entities are often categorized as either closely-held or publicly-held. These designations are not separate types of business entity; rather, they are classifications or defining characteristics of a given business. Generally, the distinction between the two classifications concerns the number of business owners and whether the equity ownership is sold on a public exchange.

Closely-held Business – A closely-held business, as the name implies, is held by a smaller or more closely related group of individuals. It is often thought of as a smaller business, such as a mom-and-pop or family business. In truth, however, the closely-held status has little to do with the size or revenue of the business; rather, it simply means that the business is not widely owned by numerous, unrelated people. Another characteristic of the closely-held entity is that it is not traded on a public market.

  • Example: My wife, three friends, and I own a business that specializes in dog training and boarding. We are a closely-held business because all of the ownership is held by a small group of closely-connect individuals.

Publicly-held Business – A publicly traded business is any business that is traded on a public exchange. This means that the company has gone through an initial public offering in which its shares were registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and subsequently listed for sale to the public at large. A publicly-held or publicly-traded company is generally held, or capable of being held, by a large number of unrelated people.

  • Example: Elton’s business is growing rapidly. He needs to bring in additional capital to expand operations. He decides to undertake a public offering and list shares of his company for sale on a public exchange. Once listed for sale to the public, Elton’s business is now a publicly-traded company.
  • Note: A closely-held business is a private business. It is unlikely that a business could or would undertake a public offering and remain closely held. The inverse, however, is not necessarily true. Private business entities are not necessarily closely held. Some private businesses are widely held by a large number of shareholders.

Discussion: Some companies choose to remain closely-held instead of seeking a large and diverse set of owners. Other companies prefer to be widely held and often undertake a public offering as part of that effort. Can you think of reasons why a company would prefer to remain a closely-held private company versus a widely-held public company?

Practice Question: Can you identify a very large closely held company that does business across the United States? Can you identify why the company is considered, “closely-held”.

Proposed Answer

  • Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., is a closely-held company that does business across the US. It is considered to be closely held, as there are only a few owners, most of whom are biologically related.

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