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What Is a Holding Company, and How Does it Work?

What is a Holding Company?


A holding company is a business entity that owns other companies and their assets but doesn't engage in day-to-day operations. It controls its subsidiaries and provides liability protection. Holding companies can be pure or mixed, depending on their level of involvement in other business activities. They generate revenue through dividends, asset income, and royalties. Professional advice is recommended for establishing and operating a holding company.

In This Article:

When you think of holding companies, you probably think of a huge multi-million-dollar corporation. And, for the most part, you are correct.

A holding company is, by definition, "a business entity that exists to own other companies." A holding company maintains oversight of its own companies and/or assets but doesn't participate in its day-to-day operations. In other words, its purpose is to own assets (subsidiary companies). These assets could be shares of stock in other corporations, limited partnerships, private equity funds, hedge funds, public stocks, bonds, real estate, song rights, brand names, patents, trademarks, copyrights, or virtually anything else that has value.

Instead of manufacturing or selling products and services, the purpose of a holding company is to control companies, or subsidiaries, that offer goods and services.

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Unpacking the Concept of a Holding Company

The question, "What is a holding company?" often comes up in business conversations. To put it simply, a holding company definition revolves around its primary function, which is to own shares in other companies rather than engage directly in business activities. It is designed to control its subsidiaries and provide a level of protection against financial risks.

Illustrative Instances of Holding Companies

Consider the case of Berkshire Hathaway, a classic example of a holding company. Originally a textile manufacturing company, it was acquired by Warren Buffett in the mid-1960s. Today, Berkshire Hathaway is a holding company owning stakes in numerous businesses, including Geico, Dairy Queen, and Duracell. This structure allows Buffett to oversee these diverse companies under one umbrella, providing him with diversified revenue streams while spreading risk across multiple industries.

The Operational Mechanism of a Holding Company

The holding company's operational mechanism isn't involved in creating or selling goods and services. Its primary role is to own, manage, and oversee the shares of other companies, allowing it to exert influence and control. Its responsibilities can range from strategic decisions to financial support for its subsidiaries.

Architectural Design of a Holding Company

The architectural design of a holding company usually involves a parent company at the top, which owns the assets of multiple subsidiary companies. This structure allows the parent company to control the operations of the subsidiaries, maintaining a strong position of governance and influence.

Financing Methods for a Holding Company

Financing a holding company often involves multiple methods, including issuing equity or debt, using internal cash flows, or receiving dividends from its subsidiaries. By diversifying its financing methods, a holding company can increase its financial flexibility and resilience.

Fundamental Duties of a Holding Company

The fundamental duties of a holding company include maintaining control over its subsidiaries, protecting assets, providing strategic direction, and managing financial risks. These duties ensure the holding company effectively manages its portfolio of businesses while safeguarding its assets.

Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) as Holding Companies

An LLC can serve as a holding company, offering benefits such as asset protection and tax advantages. This structure also provides operational flexibility, making it a popular choice for small businesses and individual investors.

Revenue Generation in a Holding Company

A holding company generates revenue through various channels, including dividends from its subsidiaries, income from its assets, and royalties from patents or copyrights it holds. This diverse income stream contributes to its financial stability and growth.

Examples of Holding Companies

Holding companies are often worth millions, sometimes billions, and they don't even trade goods and services! When a large corporation operates under a different name, it's more than likely a holding company.

Holding company examples include Goldman Sachs, Nestle, Berkshire Hathaway, J.P. Morgan, Alphabet (which owns Google), and many nationally registered agents with subsidiaries in various states. You can also check out these real estate holding company examples. These examples illustrate the diversity and scalability that a holding company can achieve, encompassing various sectors and industries under one corporate umbrella.

In today's economy, more businesses are considering a holding company structure to ensure their smaller companies are safe.

Advantages of Holding Companies

Operating a holding company comes with several upsides, including the potential for lower tax bills, reduced risk through diversification, and the ability to maintain control over multiple companies with relatively low ownership stakes. These advantages make the holding company structure appealing to many businesses.

Liability Protection

Holding companies are still considered to be their own companies even though they control other companies. This ensures liability protection for members, as well as individual companies and assets of other companies.

More Control, Less Money

A holding company allows businesses to have more control while spending less money. A holding company must purchase 51% of a business to have complete control.

Tax Advantages

When the correct tax forms are filed, a holding company can write off the losses of one subsidiary against the profits of another. This results in a lower tax bill for all companies involved.

Lower Debt Financing Costs

Securing funding at a lower cost is one of the main attractions of a holding company. A holding company can pass down funding to the subsidiary for businesses with less revenue or new businesses.

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Disadvantages of Holding Companies

Despite its benefits, operating a holding company has potential drawbacks. It can involve significant compliance costs and complexity. Additionally, there may be challenges in managing and aligning the different business strategies and operations of various subsidiaries.

Compliance Costs

From registration and state fees to the costs of maintaining the business, there are costs specific to holding companies. Depending on the number and types of subsidiaries under a holding company, these costs can add up quickly.


When a larger company owns and controls other companies with different business objectives, it's bound to be a complex process.

Types of Holding Companies

There are different types of categories when it comes to holding companies, and each has a unique operational structure. Pure holding companies focus solely on owning other companies, while mixed holding companies engage in their own operations and own other businesses. Intermediate and immediate holding companies add further complexity to the structure, offering additional layers of control and privacy.

It boils down to a company's business operations. Let's take a look at some of the different types of holding companies.

  • Pure - A “Pure” holding company will not participate in other business activities. It exists solely to own other companies. It does not explore multiple ways to own other companies.
  • Mixed – Mixed holding companies are considered holding-operating companies because they engage in other operations while controlling other businesses. When mixed companies take part in other businesses aside from their subsidiaries, they’re called conglomerates.
  • Immediate – Immediate holding companies are holding companies controlled by another holding company. However, this type of holding company continues to retain voting stock.
  • Intermediate – Intermediate holding companies are both holding companies and subsidiaries. These types of holding companies come with an added layer of privacy as they’re exempt from publishing their financial records.

How Does a Holding Company Make Money?

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A holding company can make money via its subsidiaries, income from assets, royalties, or leasing/loaning assets to 3rd parties or subsidiaries as desired.

  • Regular dividends - A holding company can profit from its subsidiary companies from shares of stocks or bonds that pay dividends or interest.
  • Intangible Corporate Assets - Holding companies can make money from royalties owed on any patents or copyrights it owns.

Setting Up a Holding Company

There is no one set structure for a holding company.

Depending on the business structure, number of investors, employees, and more, the requirements for setting up a holding company can become tedious and complex.

There are two ways holding companies can form:

  • Create a new corporation and maintain the highest number of shares
  • Purchase at least 50% stock in another company.

Typically, the process for setting up a holding company is the same as starting any business entity. You must have a unique name for the company, file Articles of Organization, pay associated fees, and meet the other state requirements.

You'll need to register your holding company with the state and provide a unique business name, agent managing the company, and articles of incorporation. You'll also need to open a separate business bank account to keep track of financials.

Once all paperwork and fees are finalized, you deposit your assets. This is where subsidiaries will transfer assets to a holding company to protect them. This process, though complex, can offer significant benefits for business owners and investors.

Mergers Leading to the Formation of a Holding Company

Mergers can lead to the formation of a holding company, particularly when two companies combine to increase their market share or diversify their operations. The resulting entity often operates as a holding company, controlling the merged companies as subsidiaries.

Learn more about setting up a holding company

FAQs About Holding Companies

"Holdings" refers to the collection of assets or investments that an individual or an entity owns. These can encompass a broad range of assets like stocks, bonds, real estate, or ownership interests in other companies.

A holding company's main objective is to exercise control over other companies. This is achieved by acquiring a significant portion of their voting shares. Other benefits include risk management, streamlined control, potential tax benefits, and protection of assets.

A holding company is a form of business entity that exists primarily to own, control, and manage other companies or investments. A corporation, on the other hand, is a specific legal structure that can engage in any sort of business activity, including serving as a holding company.

Both holding companies and LLCs are types of business structures, but they serve different functions. A holding company's primary function is to own assets or other companies. An LLC (Limited Liability Company), however, is a form of business entity that provides its owners with limited liability and can engage in various business activities, including operating as a holding company.

A holding company can be an LLC and vice versa. Traditionally small investors use LLCs, whereas large companies use Corporations as holding companies.

Depending on your preference, a holding company can be either entity type, as both offer protection from personal liability. However, an LLC holding company will have less stringent reporting and record-keeping requirements than a corporation and doesn't require the need for a board of directors.

On the other hand, you do not want to make your holding company an LLC if you plan to take your holding company public at some point. It's best to consult with a business advisor or attorney to determine the most suitable structure for your needs.

A holding company is usually structured with a parent company at the top, which owns assets such as stocks or bonds in subsidiary companies. The specific structure can vary depending on the nature and number of the subsidiaries and the goals of the business.

Yes, a single individual can own a holding company. This arrangement can provide significant benefits in terms of asset protection and control over multiple companies.

Creating a holding company can happen at any time. The decision to establish a holding company often comes when a business owner has multiple companies and wishes to streamline control, reduce risk, or achieve potential tax benefits. It's best to consult with a business advisor to determine the appropriate timing.

A holding company can provide significant tax benefits. These can include the ability to offset profits and losses among subsidiaries and defer tax payments through strategic allocation of income and expenses. Another major advantage is that the dividends paid to the holding company do not create a tax liability like they would if the dividends were paid to an individual.

While private holding companies are not required to publish their financial statements, they are generally expected to keep detailed financial records. Holding companies that are publicly traded are required to file periodic financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Yes, a holding company can offer substantial asset protection. Because the holding company itself typically does not engage in business operations, its assets are shielded from the operational risks and liabilities of its subsidiaries.

Yes. A business holding company will have at least one employee because someone needs to run the company, including signing documents, making decisions, and overseeing the management of its subsidiaries.

Is a Holding Company a Good Idea

For many business owners, a holding company is a good idea, as it can have some significant benefits. This is especially true for those who own or want to own more than one business. Understanding what a holding company is and how it works can provide useful insight into the complex structures of modern business and finance. These entities play a significant role in the global economy, controlling various businesses under a single umbrella and enabling strategic management and risk distribution.

Whether you're an investor looking to diversify your portfolio, or an entrepreneur considering ways to structure your businesses, understanding holding companies is a vital piece of the puzzle. As always, it's recommended to seek professional advice to navigate the intricacies of setting up and running a holding company. This complex structure is not right for every business. It's an option that business owners should discuss with an attorney to see if it's right for them.

Get Help With Your Business Structure Today

If you're looking to invest in a revenue-generating business or if you already manage multiple businesses, it's worth looking into starting a holding company. You'll need to examine your business plan and weigh the pros and cons to decide if forming a holding company is the right move for you.

At Wyoming LLC Attorney, we can help you to form any type of company, whether it's an LLC or a corporation. If the prospect of establishing a holding company or any other type of business in Wyoming intrigues you, contact us today to see what we can do for you. Please don't hesitate to contact us through our online contact form or by calling +1 (307) 683-0983 for paralegal assistance. We make it easy to start a business!