5 May 2008.
How do you find the name of the owner
of a small private company?
There are a number of resources and research
strategies for finding business owners. I'll
outline several methods, starting with
relatively easy approaches and free sources of
information. Then I'll suggest several
harder-to-accomplish tactics that still
utilize free sources and I'll end by
mentioning some commercial databases.
This how-to article focuses on small businesses
because it's generally harder to find
information about them. However, you may use
these sources and methods to find owner
information for large private companies as
well. In some cases, you might even find the
names of officers and others in upper
Call the company. Unless
circumstances preclude this option, the
answer could be a phone call away. Look up
the number in a local or
online telephone directory. Or query the
company name in a search engine.
Check the company's Web site. Believe
it or not, in this day and age many small
businesses do not have a Web site. But it's
always worth checking. Use a search engine
to query the company's name. If you find a
Web site, start by following any
"about" or "contact" links.
Search Better Business Bureau reports.
Better Business Bureau often has
information about a company even when it
isn't a member. However, you should note:
contact may not be the owner. The
person's title often accompanies the
of the information may be an issue. For
Reliability Reports, note the date the
file was opened.
state's database of registered businesses.
All states provide some information about
companies registered to do business in their
here to find the database. Then search the entity name.
Whether the information provided includes
the owner's name depends on the state. It's
hit or miss.
information search engines and social
networks. Certain search engines (Zoominfo,
Ziggs) and social networks (LinkedIn)
target businesses. Search these for owner
information. Note that you may have to look
for advanced search links. LinkedIn, for
example, provides a company name search
option, but only in the advanced search
Call the local agency responsible for
licensing the business. The local
(city) government office you call will vary
depending on the location. Start by
using a search engine to locate the proper
authority. Try variations of these queries:
licenses city, state
inspections city, state
occupancy city, state
For instance, if you
were looking for a business in Philadelphia,
you would call
Philadelphia Licenses & Inspections.
Call the state
regulatory agency for the business's industry
or search its online database of licenses or
inspections. Businesses in certain
industries (restaurant, car dealership) must
obtain a license. You may call the
regulating agency and request the owner
name, or look online for a database of
licenses, permits or inspections.
In Pennsylvania, for
instance, 27 licensing boards and
commissions exist to oversee the activities
of licensed professions (car dealerships).
Once you identify the appropriate
board, you may call and request
licensing and public disciplinary
information. The board may or may not reveal
the name of the owner.
may examine the regulating agency's Web site
for a search function like
this one from the Pennsylvania
Department of State. Keep in mind that it
provides information only about those in
If the industry is
regulated, but does not require board
oversight (restaurants in Pennsylvania),
check the relevant state agency's Web site
for a database of licensing information or
inspections. In Pennsylvania, for instance,
the Department of Agriculture, which
regulates food establishments, offers an
inspections database. Food inspections
reports list the owner's name.
Hoovers. Hoovers falls toward the
end of this article because it's a
commercial resource. However, it offers
substantial information for
free. When you conduct a company name
search, the results appear in two parts. The
top half contains matches directly from Hoovers.
These typically include large private
companies, non-profit organizations and
The chance of
finding owner information for a small
business is small, but cost-free.
The bottom half of
the search results contains sparse
information (company name, location, and
type) about matches in the database of
Hoovers parent company, Dun & Bradstreet.
Following links from D&B search results
sometimes - but not always - takes you to a
subscription sign-up page.
You may also opt to
buy a single report. Prices range from
$12.99 to $159. But reports do not
necessarily reveal the owner's name. They
often provide the names and titles of key
commercial databases. For consumers,
KnowX provides an easy-to-use, low-cost
alternative to access-restricted or
subscription-based research systems, such as
LexisNexis, Accurint, AutoTrackXp and
Merlin. You may search the company name from
the home page. KnowX returns a list of
databases (bankruptcies, corporate records)
that contain matches. Be sure to display the
database information sheet (called VIEW
under Info) to determine what kind of
information is provided. Also be aware that
KnowX sells access to public records that often
are available online or on-site for free.
Merlin offer business reports. These
frequently include the owner's name.
LexisNexis provides several different
databases that are useful in finding
information about private companies. Select
the information icon next to any database
name for information about database
about franchise owners check out Franchise
Index in Find a Business under the
Records tab. Additionally, there are a
number of potentially useful databases under
the Directories option. Try Experian
Business Reports for U.S. owner information.
But note the undiscounted price. It's $76 to retrieve a
report in full-text format.
exist for finding the owner of a small
business from placing a telephone call to
the business or its licensing or regulatory
agency to searching specific commercial
databases. The approach you select to launch
the research depends on how direct you want
to be and how much time or money you have to