What to Look for When Researching U.S. Corporations

This article provides an overview for conducting corporate research, identifying what information is available and how it is useful to a researcher. This post also weaves together previous articles and guides into a coherent whole. We will address where to find information on a company and what kinds of questions you can consider answering with your research.

Basic Research

The initial steps for researching any company is to do a quick Google search on it, then skim any press articles mentioning the company and look at the company website. With that completed, you can then start getting into the more advanced and more important research. This research guide assumes the researcher has already done the aforementioned basic steps.

Advanced Research

Deep Web –  See our article, “Deep Net, Open Net, and the Dark Net” that explains the deep web to understand why this will play an important role in corporate research.

The more advanced research relies on deep web databases, so at this point it is worth taking a moment to understand the “deep web.”  Most people assume that if they google a company’s name, they will find all of the information on the company that is available on the internet. In truth, the best information is usually located in deep web databases, which means the information in those databases will never appear in one’s google results.

Who Owns/Runs the Company – Every company must register with the government and the registration will usually identify the company owner in addition to other kinds of information that vary depending on the location. To find out how to obtain a registration, see “Corporate Research on the Deep Web.”

This article will also address the difference between a standard company and a corporation, from the perspective of corporate research. The main issue here is that a corporation has addition information available that it must file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which is available to the public on the SEC’s EDGAR database. Here you can find the annual filing of a company if it is incorporated. The annual filing, among other things, will show you the subsidiaries of a company.

Court Records, Property Records, Local News – Using our three guides for finding this information, you can research court recordsproperty records, and local news for any company or individual subsidiaries.

Company Website – See our guide for website research, “How to Investigate a Company’s Website.” This article ignores the content of the website and instead looks at what is “behind the scenes”.

Contact Information Without a Name – Some records may list only a phone number, or other contact information, where it is supposed to list a person’s name. If this is the case, you can use our guide for How to Research a Phone Number. (We urge you to use these methods only in support of corporate research, this is not intended as an invitation to stalk someone that wants privacy)

Leadership – You can identify important players within a company by reading our guide “How to Find Influential Actors in a Corporation”. You can also learn to conduct focused and in depth research on a corporation’s Board Members by seeing our article on “Researching Board Members.” This guide will identify how to get background information, identify connections, how much money they are paid, and find possible conflicts-of-interest.

Corporate Profiles – Web scraping can be very useful for researching a company, especially if the company website has many employee profiles. You can use our guide to web scrape profiles (or anything else on the Internet), “Enhance Corporate Investigations by Web Scraping with Python.”

Hidden, Unofficial Connections – There are many ways that people and companies can have hidden or unofficial connections with other entities, and these connections often influence the actions of both parties. See our guide on finding these connections “Corporate Research on Hidden Connections.” For an example, see the chart that maps out connections between people, addresses, stocks, and companies that were revealed when secret financial documents were leaked to ICIJ.org.

Screenshot of entities linked to Blackwater Investments (from offshoreleaks.icij.org)

Past Violations –  Our article on “Material disclosures and violations” will identify problems that the company has run into, whether it be legal issues or increased debt. This article will also show how to find when the company hires a new member to its senior ranks and how much they get paid.

Shipping Companies – Shipping companies have their own special factors, identified in our guide “Shipping companies,” that addresses identifying and locating ships, cargo, and discovering shipping violations.

Nonprofits – Companies are often linked to nonprofits via donations or because their leadership also are involved in the nonprofits themselves. See our guide for basic research on nonprofits “Researching a Nonprofit” that will explain methods like finding their tax records.

Nonprofit Corruption, Corporate Influence – Also see our guide for how to identify corruption and misuse of funds in “How to Discover Corruption in Nonprofits.” Note that it is common for corporations in the U.S. to donate funds to nonprofits affiliated with a politician. In fact, a nonprofit is four times more likely to receive a donations from a corporation if a politician sits on its board or runs it, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

For an example of corporate links to nonprofits, see the link analysis chart below, it maps out how oil companies influence think tanks (which are also nonprofits). This map was created by Littlesis.org, a free tool that identifies hidden connections.

from LittleSis.org, click here to see the source

Contracts with the U.S. Government – If the company has ever contracted or tried to contract for the U.S. government, there are several special databases that will provide unique information about the company. You can learn about this with our article “Ties to the US government”.

Questions to Help Reach a Conclusion

The next paragraph provides a number of questions that may help with a corporate investigation for several reasons. You can look at these questions before your research to help you guide your investigation and decide where to look for information. It is also useful to look at these questions at the end of an investigation so that you can take all of your information and create some form of narrative or conclusion based on it. In addition, the guides above show a lot of ways to obtain information, but you may not have time to run through all of them. Plus, a lot of the information available on a company may not be relevant for a researcher depending on why they are investigating the company in the first place.

For those reasons, it can be helpful for a research to address some or all of the following questions: Who owns the company and what connections do they have to other entities? Who runs the company?  What does the company own? Who does it owe money to? Does the company or its owners/staff have secret companies in tax havens? Where does it do business?  What government or public service contracts does it have? What links does it have with politicians and civil servants?  What regulations has it violated? What legal cases have been brought against it? Who is taking action against it? And finally, who can influence the company?

Now you will have a well-researched and analyzed product.

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