Directories are used to find out basic information about a company, products, services, competitors and key management. There are several things you need to know about a company. For starters, is the company public or private? It is far easier to get information on a publicly held company rather than a privately held one. Companies that are publicly traded are subject to be in compliance with strict regulations and accounting practices, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and report to government entities such as the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). So, they are required to report financials for those reasons and to prove their shareholder value to the street. Their first responsibility is to the shareholder (those who invest in their stock).
Privately held companies are not subject to any of those regulations. They keep their financials and goings on close their chests. You have to be more of a sleuth - a morally and legally ethical sleuth but a sleuth nonetheless in those cases to gather intelligence about them.
The first thing you want to do is consult a company directory to find out the legal name, who owns them, if they are public or private, and if they are domestic or international. Why is this information important? Well, for one thing, if they are a holding company in the Canary Islands this raises a red flag, right? You want to make sure the entity is real, not a fictitious one AND you want to find out their relationship to you, the sales force. Are you are part of the company or an outsourced function. Who are you going to track down if you don’t get paid? HOW will you get paid?
What is the latest press? A directory will help you find out the latest news about a company, if their website is a bit sparse in that regard (another red flag).
Who is the management team? Are there competent people at the helm? We are not talking about endorsers or spokesperson celebrity types, or financial institutions who bless them (though that’s all good too). We are talking about the C-level people running the show. How long have they been in business? Google them and find out their experience, where they went to business school, their affiliations in the community. You have to feel comfortable with the reputation of the company and its management team. If they run the company into the ground, you could be affected. If they have a stigma, you are guilty by association in the eyes of your prospects. This speaks volumes about the company’s ethics. Business ethics is a required course for most MBA programs, is it any wonder? Your time, energy and reputation are valuable!
Here are some other commonly used directory sources that will be useful to you in finding out the name, history, length of time in business, whereabouts, financials, management team and news.
Directory of Corporate Affiliations (available at your local library)
A listing of over 100,000 public and private companies, this resource is especially useful for private companies.
Dun & Bradstreet is a service that tracks company credit-worthiness (D&B Rating), payment habits (D&B PAYEX score) and other pertinent information. You want a company with high volume, revenues and the highest credit rating (5A). You can search by name, industry or individual company “D&B D-U-N-S” number (that stands for (Data Universal Numbering System) Using D&B, you can get the corporate legal name, affiliations, industry statistics, corporate and competitive intelligence. Purchase an individual report for the company that interests you.
Hoovers allows you to research a company, management team and industry. Search by name or by ticker symbol, industry keyword or executive’s name. Summaries are free, but you have to subscribe for the full report.
Million Dollar Directory from Dun & Bradstreet (available at your local library)
Listing of company names, addresses, approximate sales figures, number of employees and management team, private companies should be here too.
Largest company directory of manufacturers organized by name and product
WSJ Company Research – a bit of free data, but requires subscription
Not that you should believe everything you read on a wiki because anyone can edit it, but Wikipedia does provide comprehensive snapshots of companies and industries. We do recommend using this resource and its discussion pages in conjunction with the business research resources suggested on this page.
Private, Subsidiary and Foreign owned company data are a little harder to find. Ask your local library to search periodical and newspaper indices, Google and Dialog, Factiva or Lexis/Nexis searches. See if you can connect an ALA accredited library school to find students taking online research classes and ask them to do your search as practice for free J!
The directories are a start, but some of the data may be incomplete. We suggest Google, looking at their company websites, and indexes, such as for newspapers. You might even consider asking the local library to conduct searches in Dialog, Factiva and Lexis/Nexis for articles about the company. Remember, just because a company is private, it doesn’t mean it is not desirable, it just means they don’t have to disclose the way that public companies do. Look at M&M Mars or Levi Strauss for example. Ask your local library to search periodical and newspaper indices, Google and Dialog, Factiva or Lexis/Nexis searches.
There are more subsidiaries in place now. The parent company may need to report their financials but there may be less information about the subsidiary or division. In the case of a public parent, you would be looking at the parent company’s annual or 10-K reports to see the impact the subsidiary had on it. As with private companies, search periodical and newspaper indices, Google and Dialog, Factiva or Lexis/Nexis searches.
You may find that your company is US based division or subsidiary of an overseas company. The reporting rules are not the same as they are in the US. Most US libraries may not be as well equipped with this kind of data unless they are on the US stock exchange. As with private companies, search periodical and newspaper indices, Google and Dialog, Factiva or Lexis/Nexis searches. Check the World Business Directory, published by the Gale Group. This has over 100,000 listings of business profiles.