Conglomerate (company)

A conglomerate is a multi-industry company – i.e., a combination of multiple business entities operating in entirely different industries under one corporate group, usually involving a parent company and many subsidiaries. Conglomerates are often large and multinational.


Replica of an East Indiaman of the Dutch East India Company/United East India Company (VOC). The VOC is often considered to be the world's first true multinational corporation (or transnational corporation).[1][2][3][4][5]

Often labelled a trading company (i.e. a company of merchants who buy and sell goods produced by other people) or sometimes a shipping company, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was in fact a proto-conglomerate at the dawn of modern capitalism, diversifying into multiple commercial and industrial activities such as international trade (especially intra-Asian trade),[6][7][8][9][10][11] shipbuilding, and both production and trade of East Indian spices,[12] Indonesian coffee, Formosan sugarcane,[13][14] and South African wine.[15][16][17]

United States fadEdit


Conglomerates were popular in the United States, in the 1960s, due to a combination of low interest rates, and a repeating bear-bull market, which allowed the conglomerates to buy companies in leveraged buyouts, sometimes at temporarily deflated values.[18] Famous examples from the 1960s include Ling-Temco-Vought,[19] ITT Corporation,[19] Litton Industries,[19] Textron,[19] Teledyne.[19] Because of low interest on the loans, the overall return on investment of the conglomerate appeared to grow. In addition, the conglomerate had a better ability to borrow in the money market, or capital market, than the smaller firm at their community bank.[citation needed]

For many years this was enough to make the company's stock price rise, as companies were often valued largely on their return on investment. The aggressive nature of the conglomerators themselves was enough to make many investors, who saw a "powerful" and seemingly unstoppable force in business, buy their stock.[citation needed] High stock prices allowed them to raise more loans, based on the value of their stock, and thereby buy even more companies. This led to a chain reaction, which allowed them to grow very rapidly.

However, all of this growth was somewhat illusory and when interest rates rose to offset inflation, conglomerate profits fell. Investors noticed that the companies inside the conglomerate were growing no faster than before they were purchased, whereas the rationale for buying a company was that "synergies" would provide efficiency. By the late 1960s they were shunned by the market, and a major sell-off of their shares ensued. To keep the companies going, many conglomerates were forced to shed the industries they had recently purchased, and by the mid-1970s most had been reduced to shells.[20] The conglomerate fad was subsequently replaced by newer ideas like focusing on a company's core competency.

Genuine diversificationEdit

In other cases, conglomerates are formed for genuine interests of diversification rather than manipulation of paper return on investment. Companies with this orientation would only make acquisitions or start new branches in other sectors when they believed this would increase profitability or stability by sharing risks. Flush with cash during the 1980s, General Electric also moved into financing and financial services, which in 2005 accounted for about 45% of the company's net earnings. GE formerly owned a minority interest in NBCUniversal, which owns the NBC television network and several other cable networks. In some ways GE is the opposite of the "typical" 1960s conglomerate in that the company was not highly leveraged, and when interest rates rose GE was able to turn this to its advantage. It was often less expensive to lease from GE than buy new equipment using loans. United Technologies has also proven to be a successful conglomerate.

Mutual fundsEdit

With the spread of mutual funds (especially index funds since 1976), investors could more easily obtain diversification by owning a small slice of many companies in a fund rather than owning shares in a conglomerate. Another example of a successful conglomerate is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company which used surplus capital from its insurance subsidiaries to invest in businesses across a variety of industries.


The end of the First World War caused a brief economic crisis in Weimar Germany, permitting entrepreneurs to buy businesses at rock-bottom prices. The most successful, Hugo Stinnes, established the most powerful private economic conglomerate in 1920s Europe – Stinnes Enterprises – which embraced sectors as diverse as manufacturing, mining, shipbuilding, hotels, newspapers, and other enterprises.

The best known British conglomerate was Hanson plc. It followed a rather different timescale than the U.S. examples mentioned above, as it was founded in 1964 and ceased to be a conglomerate when it split itself into four separate listed companies between 1995 and 1997.

In Hong Kong, some of the well-known conglomerates include Jardine Matheson (AD1824), Swire Group (AD1816), (British companies, one Scottish one English; companies that have a history of over 150 years and have business interests that span across four continents with a focus in Asia.) C K Hutchison Whampoa (now CK Hutchison Holdings), Sino Group, (both Asian-owned companies specialize business such as real estate and hospitality with a focus in Asia.)

In Japan, a different model of conglomerate, the keiretsu, evolved. Whereas the Western model of conglomerate consists of a single corporation with multiple subsidiaries controlled by that corporation, the companies in a keiretsu are linked by interlocking shareholdings and a central role of a bank. Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo are some of Japan's best known keiretsu, reaching from automobile manufacturing to the production of electronics such as televisions. While not a keiretsu, Sony is an example of a modern Japanese conglomerate with operations in consumer electronics, video games, the music industry, television and film production and distribution, financial services, and telecommunications.

In China, many of the country's conglomerates are state-owned enterprises, but there is a substantial number of private conglomerates. Notable conglomerates include BYD, CIMC, China Merchants Bank, Huawei, JXD, Meizu, Ping An Insurance, TCL, Tencent, TP-Link, ZTE, Legend Holdings, Dalian Wanda Group, China Poly Group, Beijing Enterprises, and Fosun International. Fosun is currently China's largest civilian-run conglomerate by revenue.[21]

In South Korea, the chaebol are a type of conglomerate owned and operated by a family. A chaebol is also inheritable, as most of current presidents of chaebols succeeded their fathers or grandfathers. Some of the largest and most well-known Korean chaebols are Samsung, LG, Hyundai Kia and SK.

The era of Licence Raj (1947–1990) in India created some of Asia's largest conglomerates, such as the Tata Group, Kirloskar Group, Larsen & Toubro, Mahindra Group, Sahara India, ITC Limited, Essar Group, Reliance ADA Group, Reliance Industries, Aditya Birla Group and the Bharti Enterprises.

In Brazil the most important conglomerates are J&F Investimentos, Odebrecht, Itaúsa, Camargo Corrêa, Votorantim Group, Andrade Gutierrez, and Queiroz Galvão.

In New Zealand, Fletcher Challenge was formed in 1981 from the merger of Fletcher Holdings, Challenge Corporation, and Tasman Pulp & Paper, in an attempt to create a New Zealand-based multi-national company. At the time, the newly merged company dealt in construction, building supplies, pulp and paper mills, forestry, and oil & gas. Following a series of bungled investments, the company demerged in the early 2000s to concentrate on building and construction.

In the Philippines, the largest conglomerate of the country is the Ayala Corporation which focuses on malls, bank, real estate development, and telecommunications. The other big conglomerates in the Philippines included JG Summit Holdings, Lopez Group of Companies, SM Investments Corporation, Metro Pacific Investments Corporation and San Miguel Corporation.

In United States, some of the examples are The Walt Disney Company, WarnerMedia (see below).

In Canada, one of the examples is Hudson's Bay Company.

Advantages and disadvantages of conglomeratesEdit


  • Diversification results in a reduction of investment risk. A downturn suffered by one subsidiary, for instance, can be counterbalanced by stability, or even expansion, in another division. For example, if Berkshire Hathaway's construction materials business has a good year, the profit might be offset by a bad year in its insurance business. This advantage is enhanced by the fact that the business cycle affects industries in different ways. Financial Conglomerates have very different compliance requirements from insurance or reinsurance solo entities or groups. There are very important opportunities that can be exploited, to increase shareholder value.
  • A conglomerate creates an internal capital market if the external one is not developed enough. Through the internal market, different parts of conglomerate allocate capital more effectively.
  • A conglomerate can show earnings growth, by acquiring companies whose shares are more discounted than its own. In fact, Teledyne, GE, and Berkshire Hathaway have delivered high earnings growth for a time.[22]


  • The extra layers of management increase costs.[23]
  • Accounting disclosure is less useful information, many numbers are disclosed grouped, rather than separately for each business. The complexity of a conglomerate's accounts make them harder for managers, investors and regulators to analyze, and makes it easier for management to hide issues.
  • Conglomerates can trade at a discount to the overall individual value of their businesses because investors can achieve diversification on their own simply by purchasing multiple stocks. The whole is often worth less than the sum of its parts.
  • Culture clashes can destroy value.[24][25]
  • Inertia prevents development of innovation.[26]
  • Lack of focus, and inability to manage unrelated businesses equally well.[27]
  • Brand dilution where the brand loses its brand associations with a market segment, product area, or quality, price or cachet.
  • Conglomerates more easily run the risk of being too big to fail.

Some cite the decreased cost of conglomerate stock (a phenomenon known as conglomerate discount) as evidential of these disadvantages, while other traders believe this tendency to be a market inefficiency, which undervalues the true strength of these stocks.[28]

Media conglomeratesEdit

In her 1999 book No Logo, Naomi Klein provides several examples of mergers and acquisitions between media companies designed to create conglomerates for the purposes of creating synergy between them:

  • Time Warner included several tenuously linked businesses during the 1990s and 2000s, including Internet access, content, film, cable systems and television. Their diverse portfolio of assets allowed for cross-promotion and economies of scale. However, the company has sold or spun off many of these businesses – including Warner Music Group, Warner Books, AOL, Time Warner Cable, and Time Inc. – since 2004.
  • Clear Channel Communications, a public company, at one point owned a variety of TV and radio stations and billboard operations, together with many concert venues across the U.S. and a diverse portfolio of assets in the UK and other countries around the world. The concentration of bargaining power in this one entity allowed it to gain better deals for all of its business units. For example, the promise of playlisting (allegedly, sometimes, coupled with the threat of blacklisting) on its radio stations was used to secure better deals from artists performing in events organized by the entertainment division. These policies have been attacked as unfair and even monopolistic, but are a clear advantage of the conglomerate strategy. On December 21, 2005, Clear Channel completed the divestiture of Live Nation, and in 2007 the company divested their television stations to other firms, some which Clear Channel holds a small interest in. Live Nation owns the events and concert venues previously owned by Clear Channel Communications.
  • Impact of conglomerates on the media: The five major media conglomerates in the United States are The Walt Disney Company, Comcast, Viacom, WarnerMedia and CBS Broadcasting Inc. (CBS). The Walt Disney Company is linked with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), creating the largest media corporation, with revenue equal to roughly thirty six billion dollars. Since Walt Disney owns ABC, it controls its news and programming. Walt Disney also acquired most of Fox, for over $70 billion. When General Electric owned NBC, it did not allow negative reporting against General Electric on air (NBCUniversal is now owned by Comcast). Viacom's chief executive, Sumner Redstone, considers himself a “liberal democrat” and most of Viacom's programming has a liberal perspective.[29]
  • Media conglomerate impact on journalism: It leads to opinionated journalism versus traditional journalism. Opinionated journalism is a journalist adding his or her ideologies on a matter on top of reporting it to the public. The coverage that conglomerates have of issues, especially political, is not necessarily objective, and fails to report both sides of an issue, if not taking a neutral stance.[30] This is known as media bias. Media bias is ”the intentional or unintentional slanting of news reporting toward one side due political views or cultural beliefs of journalists, producers or owners of a media outlet.[29]

Internet conglomeratesEdit

A relatively new development, Internet conglomerates, such as Alphabet, Google's parent company[31] belong to the modern media conglomerate group and play a major role within various industries, such as brand management. In most cases Internet conglomerates consist of corporations who own several medium-sized online or hybrid online-offline projects. In many cases, newly joined corporations get higher returns on investment, access to business contacts, and better rates on loans from various banks.[citation needed]

Food conglomeratesEdit

Similar to other industries there are many companies that can be termed as conglomerates.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Brook, Timothy: Vermeer's Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World. (Bloomsbury Press, 2008, pp. 288, ISBN 978-1596915992)
  2. ^ Sayle, Murray (5 April 2001). "Japan goes Dutch". London Review of Books. Vol. 23 no. 7. The Netherlands United East Indies Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC), founded in 1602, was the world's first multinational, joint-stock, limited liability corporation – as well as its first government-backed trading cartel. Our own East India Company, founded in 1600, remained a coffee-house clique until 1657, when it, too, began selling shares, not in individual voyages, but in the Company itself, by which time its Dutch rival was by far the biggest commercial enterprise the world had known.
  3. ^ Phelan, Ben (7 Jan 2013). "Dutch East India Company: The World's First Multinational". Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  4. ^ Hagel, John; Brown, John Seely (12 March 2013). "Institutional Innovation: Creating Smarter Organizations". Deloitte Insights. [...] In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was formed. It was a new type of institution: the first multinational company, and the first to issue public stock. These innovations allowed a single company to mobilize financial resources from a large number of investors and create ventures at a scale that had previously only been possible for monarchs.
  5. ^ Taylor, Bryan (6 Nov 2013). "The Rise and Fall of the Largest Corporation in History". Retrieved 8 August 2017.
  6. ^ Ota, Atsushi (18 September 2013). "The Dutch East India Company and the Rise of Intra-Asian Commerce". (Nippon Communications Foundation). Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  7. ^ Gaastra, Femme (1986), 'The Dutch East India Company and its Intra-Asiatic Trade in Precious Metals,'; in The Emergence of a World Economy, 1500–1914, Part I (Papers of the XI International Congress of Economic History), edited by Wolfram Fischer, Marvin McInnis, and Jürgen Schneider (Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, 1986)
  8. ^ Van Dyke, Paul A. (1997), 'How and Why the Dutch East India Company Became Competitive in Intra-Asian Trade in East Asia in the 1630s,'. Itinerario 21(3): 41–56. doi:10.1017/S0165115300015229
  9. ^ Shimada, Ryuto (2006), 'The Golden Age of Japanese Copper: the Intra-Asian Copper Trade of the Dutch East India Company,'; in A.J.H. Latham & Heita Kawakatsu (eds.), Intra-Asian Trade and the World Market. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), chapter 2
  10. ^ Shimada, Ryuto: The Intra-Asian Trade in Japanese Copper by the Dutch East India Company During the Eighteenth Century (TANAP Monographs on the History of Asian-European Interaction). (BRILL, 2005, ISBN 978-9004150928)
  11. ^ Nadri, Ghulam A. (2008), 'The Dutch Intra-Asian Trade in Sugar in the Eighteenth Century,'. International Journal of Maritime History 20(1): 63–96
  12. ^ Grenville, Stephen (3 November 2017). "The first global supply chain". Lowy Institute. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  13. ^ Shih, Chih-Ming; Yen, Szu-Yin (2009). The Transformation of the Sugar Industry and Land Use Policy in Taiwan, in Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering [8:1], pp. 41–48
  14. ^ Tseng, Hua-pi (2016). Sugar Cane and the Environment under Dutch Rule in Seventeenth Century Taiwan, in Environmental History in the Making, pp. 189–200
  15. ^ Estreicher, Stefan K. (2014), 'A Brief History of Wine in South Africa,'. European Review 22(3): pp. 504–537. doi:10.1017/S1062798714000301
  16. ^ Fourie, Johan; von Fintel, Dieter (2014), 'Settler Skills and Colonial Development: The Huguenot Wine-Makers in Eighteenth-Century Dutch South Africa,'. The Economic History Review 67(4): 932–963. doi:10.1111/1468-0289.12033
  17. ^ Williams, Gavin (2016), 'Slaves, Workers, and Wine: The 'Dop System' in the History of the Cape Wine Industry, 1658–1894,'. Journal of Southern African Studies 42(5): 893–909
  18. ^ "The Forgotten History of How 1960s Conglomerates Derailed the American Dream | The Saturday Evening Post". Retrieved 2020-01-27.
  19. ^ a b c d e Holland 1989, pp. 57–64, 81–86.
  20. ^ "Hitachi Ltd - Company Profile; Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Hitachi, Ltd". Archived from the original on 2010-02-12. Retrieved 2010-08-25.
  21. ^ Tsui, Enid (24 June 2012). "China conglomerate Fosun to scour for deals with $1bn fund". Financial Times.
  22. ^ "Conglomerates: Cash Cows or Corporate Chaos?". Archived from the original on 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  23. ^ Dearbail Jordan and Robin Pagnamenta (September 25, 2007). "BP to strip out four layers of management". The Times. Archived from the original on June 12, 2011.
  24. ^ "Culture clash: The risks of mergers". BBC News. 17 January 2000. Archived from the original on 2 June 2009.
  25. ^ Michelle C. Bligh (2006). "Surviving Post-merger 'Culture Clash': Can Cultural Leadership Lessen the Casualties?". Leadership. 2 (4): 395–426. doi:10.1177/1742715006068937.
  26. ^ "Innovation and Inertia". Stanford University's Entrepreneurship Center. Archived from the original on 2009-08-01.
  27. ^ "Conglomerate". Archived from the original on 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2009-05-28.
  28. ^ "Conglomerate Discount". Archived from the original on 2015-03-30. Retrieved 2015-03-31.
  29. ^ a b "Do Media Conglomerates Influence Media Bias? (with images, tweets) · asiarenee91". Storify. Archived from the original on 2016-12-02. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  30. ^ "Media Conglomerates And It's [sic] Impact on Journalism | Comm455/History of Journalism". Archived from the original on 2016-12-02. Retrieved 2016-12-02.
  31. ^ "G is for Google". Archived from the original on 9 April 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2018.


External linksEdit

  • "Conglomerate". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 17 November 2007.
  • Conglomerate Monkeyshines, An example of how conglomerates were used in the 1960s to manufacture earnings growth