America’s Largest Private Companies: Cargill Is Back At No. 1

Cargill is once again at first place in Forbes’ annual list of the top private businesses. The agribusiness company fell to the number. 2 in the past year, which was three times Cargill was not ranked in the top spot since Forbes began tracking the nation’s private firms in the year 1985. The Minnesota-based company’s revenue increased by 17% from May 2021 to $134.4 billion, as reported by the company driven by increased prices for agricultural products. Koch Industries slides into No. 2 in the world this year, with revenue of $115 billion from December 2020 to December 2021. The family-owned firm has several business lines, such as refining, chemicals, paper products, and software. It’s been run by its billionaire CEO and chairman Charles Koch since 1967.

Other well-known names among the leading positions are confectionery maker Mars, ranked No. 4, the Boston-based financial giant Fidelity, ranked No. 10, and media giant Cox Communications at No. 14.

The selection of companies on the list is based on revenue from this year’s most recent fiscal year. For most businesses, this means that they have that gains will be for the calendar year 2020. Some also have years of fiscal activity that concluded in October 2021.

Medical supply firm Medline had made waves in the spring of this year when it announced that it sold a significant stake in the company to a consortium of private equity companies in one of the largest ever leveraged buyouts. The deal, estimated at $34 billion, was completed in October. Medline remains a personal business currently ranked No.16, with revenue in the range of $17.5 billion.

Food retailers were a success, with 16 out of 19 supermarket chains listed having increased revenue over last year’s rankings because of increased consumer demand due to the outbreak. Growth in sales brought two supermarket chains on top of the list—the Texas-based Brookshire Brothers at No. 162 and Arizona-based Bashas’ at No. 208. Revenues at Florida’s Publix Supermarkets (No. 3) increased by 18% in 2020, thanks to the company’s growing presence. Publix, a major supermarket chain, has opened 39 new stores this year. In September, Publix announced that it would expand its operations to Kentucky by the end of 2023.

Southeastern Grocers, No. 38, has tinkered with an IPO for a long time but canceled the plan for an IPO earlier in the month. The program for the IPO during 2014 too was canceled. Southeastern is the owner of its own Winn-Dixie, Harveys Supermarkets, and Fresco Y Mas banners and estimates revenues of $9.6 billion.

There’s always a change both in and out of the list. This year, 19 companies did not cut due to lower revenues, acquisition, or public offering. Ten companies were excluded because their revenues fell under the $2 billion threshold on the list. Furniture manufacturer Haworth was impacted by the slump in the furniture market for offices, and its revenues dropped 19 percent to $1.8 billion by 2020. Revenues of the hospitality firm Delaware North fell by 61 percent to $1.45 billion due to cancellations of sporting events and an increase in business activity at airports. These are two areas where the company operates.

The most well-known company to exit the market is Airbnb. Airbnb was the home rental company that went public with an IPO valued at $47 billion in December after just about two years listed on the list. Alongside Airbnb as publicly traded firms include Petco Animal Supplies, Vizio, and Jo-Ann Stores. Vizio was a candidate to go public in the year 2015. However, it pulled the plugin after signing a deal to sell to a Chinese company the following year. This deal eventually could not be completed, and Vizio continued to remain private until the end of March this year. Founder William Wang remains CEO.

Two companies have ceased to exist because of mergers. Warehouse-based grocery retailer Smart & Final was acquired in May 2021 by Bodega Latina, a subsidiary of Mexico’s Grupo Comercial Chedraui. In the meantime, Nature’s Bounty, a New York-based manufacturer of vitamins, was transferred by Nestle on August 20, 2021, for $5.75 billion.

Accounting firms Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young, were taken off the list because all three have global headquarters overseas.

Twenty-five companies joined the ranks this year either as a newcomer or a returning (defined as a company that had previously appeared, then dropped off and returned to this list). The top-ranked newcomer is Uline at the top of the list. 73. The Wisconsin-based company offers various business and shipping supplies and is estimated to earn $5.8 billion.

The newly formed Ultimate Kronos Group joins the list at number. 138, with the revenue in the range of $3.3 billion. The cloud computing company is specialized in human resources and workforce management. It was established in April 2020 as a result of an amalgamation between Ultimate Software and Kronos Inc.

Michaels Companies, the art framing, crafts, and arts retailer, has returned to our list for the third time and is on its cycle as a private firm. Michaels was founded in 1973, and it was listed on Nasdaq in 1984. Blackstone, along with Bain Capital, acquired Michaels in the latter half of 2006, and it went public in 2014. Apollo Global Management took Michaels back to private at the beginning of April with a $3.3 billion acquisition. It is interesting to note that Michaels began their journey at the number. At 81, which is the same position as this year.

Grocery Chain Brookshire Brothers, ranked No. 162, makes its return to the top spot following 12 years. The company was dropped from the list when the minimum for listing was increased to $2 billion in 2009. Brookshire Brothers are related to another business that is on the list, Brookshire Grocery, No. 168. A split in the brothers that founded the company in 1938 led to the creation of two separate companies.


Forbes’s list of the top private firms headquartered in America comprises U.S.-based firms with revenues of more than $2 billion during the most recent fiscal year. A majority of the companies do not plan to change their status as private companies. Many companies like the flexibility of not reporting quarterly earnings expectations and reducing obligations to report to Sarbanes Oxley. (Private companies with publicly traded debt have to submit financial statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission.) We don’t include companies with headquarters outside of the U.S., companies that don’t have to pay income tax (like Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority) and mutually owned businesses (like State Farm Insurance) and cooperatives (like Land O’Lakes), industries with less than 100 workers, as well as companies which are at least 50% controlled by a private, public, or non-U.S. firm. We also exclude businesses that’s primary business is automobile dealerships, real estate management, and investment. We also include companies that private firms own, for example, Medline Industries. When possible, our figures for revenue for each business exclude the income from publicly-traded subsidiaries. Our sources of data include voluntary disclosures made by corporations, Securities and Exchange Commission filings, figures of Forbes research, and other sources.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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