Information on Companies

This information hub page contains a list of the most common business & financial terms containing the word ‘company’, and links to pages which explain them in more detail.

A company is an entity, an organization, that sells goods or services in order to make money.

The English word ‘company’ comes from Old French ‘compaignie’, a military term first recorded in 1150, meaning a ‘body of soldiers’. It started having a business meaning at the beginning of the thirteenth century when the word referred to trade guilds. With the meaning of a ‘business association’, the term did not emerge until 1553.

Company Secretary – the person who ensures that a company operates according to the law and is managed properly. Over the past ten years, the breadth and importance of the company secretary’s role has expanded significantly. It is a senior position. In the US, the term corporate secretary is common.

Limited Company – a business entity that is responsible in its own right for all its obligations and activities. The shareholders only risk the money they have invested in stocks. Profit made (after tax) belongs to the limited company. There are two main types: 1. Public Limited Company. 2. Private Limited Company.

Multinational Company – a firm that has assets and facilities in more than one country. Also known as a multinational corporation or transnational corporation.

Private Company – a company whose shares belong to just one or a group of individuals and cannot be bought and sold through a stock exchange. In some cases, ‘private company’ may refer to a firm that does not belong to the state.

Public Company – a company whose shares are traded freely on a stock exchange or over-the-counter by members of the public, unlike a private company. Also called a publicly held company, publicly-traded company, or public corporation.

Public Limited Company (PLC) – a public company in the UK and Ireland, as well as in some Commonwealth countries. A PLC’s shares can be traded freely on the open stock exchange.

Shelf Company – a company which has been legally set up but does not do anything. Its owner may plan to sell it, or use it for a project later on. Also called a blank check company, ready-made company or aged company.

Shell Company – a company with no significant assets or any current business activity. Many shell companies are set up for legal business purposes. However, they are also used by criminals, including tax evaders (and avoiders), terrorist funders and money launderers. Also called a front company, personal investment company or shell corporation.

Zombie Company – a heavily indebted company that can only just manage to pay the interest on its loans, but is unable to reduce the principle. The term could also refer to businesses that have been bailed out and would not exist today had it not been for the help. Also called living dead or a zombie firm.