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How To Do Company Research: Home

Doing Company Research

Find out the company's official name and parent corporation

Many of the information sources you'll need to use to research a company will only take the company's full official name. And in many cases, you can't find much on the company's divisions, so you have to first look for their parent corporations. 

IBM? It's International Business Machines. Pepsi is actually Pepsi Bottling Group. And then there are the companies who have been merged with or acquired by other companies. Burt's Bees is owned by Chlorox and Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive. 

So how do you find out a company's official name? This is pretty easy. Google Apple company or Mobil company or Madison Handbags company. If it's not owned by some other company, the information will come up to the right of your regular search results. This information comes from Wikipedia. Don't worry about that. You can verify it later if you don't trust it. 

If your company is owned by another company, look it up on Wikipedia, and information on what company owns it will be included in the entry. For example, "Morningstar Farms is a division of the Kellogg Company that produces vegetarian food..."

Find out if the company is public or private

A private company is owned by a person, or a family, or a group of people who have formed a corporation together. A public company is owned by shareholders. In other words, its stock is traded on the stock market. If a company has a stock market ticker symbol, it is publicly traded. 

So just look up the company's name in the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch Symbol Lookup feature here - If it is there, that means it's publicly traded. If it isn't there, that means it's a private company. 

Find out if the company is US or international

Smaller companies may only operate within their home company but many operate throughout the world. Large corporations are often multinational. What makes a difference for company research is where the company's headquarters are. That location is where the executive staff officially go to work. Most of the employees may work in a completely different part of the world. Even the executives might live somewhere else, and just fly into the headquarters city once in a while. But the country where the headquarters are located determines where the company pays its taxes, and what laws and regulations govern it. (Although the laws and regulations of countries where they do business also have an impact.)

There's a really easy way to find out where a company is headquartered: Google it's official name! If you do that, in addition to your search results, you'll also get a box on the right side of the page that gives the company's vital information, including its headquarters city. Stewarts Shops is headquartered in Ballston Spa, NY, so it's a US company. 

If its headquarters and most of its operations are in another country, it's a foreign company.

And if it has centers of business in two or more countries, it's an international, a.k.a. multinational company. This is a really vague concept, because they may designate the official headquarters in one place for tax or labor market purposes, even though they are manufacturing and marketing in other countries. As an example, Honda is a Japanese company, but the Honda cars produced for the US market are manufactured in the US.

All right, now you have the basics. You need company profiles and articles about the company!

Look in business newspapers

Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal are key places to search for articles profiling companies, both big and small, private and public, domestic and international. For smaller companies, you will also want to look at regional newspapers. 

Databases you should search in are:

  • Wall Street Journal
  • National Newspapers
  • Regional Business News

To get to both of them, go to the library web site and click Newspapers. Then scroll down the list and click the database you want. Log in if it prompts you to. Then search for your topic.

Look in business magazines

Notable business magazines often profile companies.

These links take you to the magazine's homepage within one of our databases. From there you can either browse by date or issue, or search for your topic by keyword. 

Look in scholarly business journals

The difference between a popular magazine article about a business and a scholarly journal article about that business is that the popular magazine article is meant to give you an overview of interesting and/or practical information, while the scholarly journal article is meant to measure, analyze, and interpret some higher order concepts. Both are useful in their own way. 

Here are some databases you should search for scholarly journal articles on your topic:

  • Business Source Complete - this is the big one
  • ABI/Inform
  • Business & Company ASAP 

You can get to all these databases by going to the library web site and clicking Article Databases. Then scroll down the alphabetical list and click the one you want. Log in with your college login and password, if you are prompted to. Here is some information about how to do keyword searching in databases

Remember, if you want only scholarly search results, you have to click the checkbox that says "scholarly" or "peer reviewed"!

Look for company profiles

Sometimes you will luck out, and the company you're researching will have a profile. A company profile is a short and simple overview of a company's history and its prospects, what it does, what its goals are, what advantages it has, what risks it faces, who are its competitors, and so forth. 

You will find company profiles in: 

  • Business Source Complete - see this handy guide to finding company profiles in this database here
  • Business & Company ASAP
  • Business Insights: Essentials
  • LexisNexis Academic - has company profiles. Just click Advanced Options under the main search box and you can select Company Profiles. Then search by the company's name. 

Again, you can get to all these databases by going to the library web site and clicking Article Databases. Then scroll down the alphabetical list and click the one you want. Log in with your college login and password, if you are prompted to. Here is some information about how to do keyword searching in databases.

Find case studies

If you are looking for Harvard Business Review case studies, the bad news is that we do not have them. They have to be purchased direct from the source. If your instructor wants you to use one, ask your instructor how to access it. 

However, there are many other sources of case studies! Here is a tutorial on how to find them

  • Business Source Complete
  • Proquest Business
  • Entrepreneurial Studies Source

Again, you can get to all these databases by going to the library web site and clicking Article Databases. Then scroll down the alphabetical list and click the one you want. Log in with your college login and password, if you are prompted to.

Find a SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT Analysis is a document that provides a useful summary of a company's position and its future prospects. Here is a short article explaining the structure and purpose of a SWOT Analysis. You can find SWOT Analyses in:

Again, you can get to all these databases by going to the library web site and clicking Article Databases. Then scroll down the alphabetical list and click the one you want. Log in with your college login and password, if you are prompted to. 

Here is some information about how to keyword search.

If you are interested in writing your own SWOT Analysis, this instruction sheet from the University of Washington will help: SWOT Analysis.

Find the SEC filings

Publicly traded companies in the US have to submit certain kinds of reports to the government (the Securities and Exchange Commission, to be exact) in order to demonstrate that they're not ripping off their investors and posing a threat to the economy. This is called SEC filings, and a number of different kinds of documents are submitted. 

You can look up SEC filings in a government database called EDGAR. Here is a tutorial on how to use it: How Do I Use EDGAR? 

If you are doing basic research, go right to the 10-K report. That is a comprehensive analysis of the company at the time it was filed, much more detailed and objective than you will find in the company's annual report. There are other documents too. But here is something that will help you figure out which filings you need and how to interpret them: SEC Filings: Forms You Need To Know (from Investopedia.)

Find the annual reports

The annual report is not going to tell you anything factual that you couldn't find in the 10-k report from the SEC filings. But what it will give you is tone, atmosphere, culture. Oh, and graphics! Annual reports tend to be full of pretty, if oversimplified, graphics and charts that you can use in your assignments (just cite them, of course!) Companies write their annual reports to impress investors and potential investors, and to intimidate their competition. Bear that in mind - they are trying to make themselves look good, so there's going to be bias. And they are not going to reveal any secrets. You will generally find annual reports on the company web site. Just Google something like "Pepsi Bottling Group" "annual report". 

Organizational Charts?

Companies treat their org charts as proprietary information, trade secrets. If you find an org chart in a database or on a web site, chances are that somebody was guessing or making things up. 

Similarly, you are never ever ever going to find emails, internal memos, or even things like policies and practices (unless they're very heavily edited) on the web or in a database. Well, maybe in Wikileaks! But one thing that needs to be understood about business is that it's highly secretive. They avoid revealing anything that could blunt their competitive edge, get them in trouble with the law, raise their taxes, stir up dissent among employees, or turn off consumers.

Even long defunct companies may never release their internal documents to the public. Unlike the government, there is no Freedom Of Information Act that citizens can use to get at business documents.

The big exception is that some companies get in trouble, and there's an investigation, and documents are subpoenaed by the courts. Then some of them may become public. 


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