A company is a legal entity made up of an association of people, be they natural, legal, or a mixture of both, for carrying on a commercial or industrial enterprise. Company members share a common purpose and unite in order to focus their various talents and organize their collectively available skills or resources to achieve specific, declared goals. Companies take various forms such as:
A company or association of persons can be created at law as legal person so that the company in itself can accept limited liability for civil responsibility and taxation incurred as members perform (or fail) to discharge their duty within the publicly declared "birth certificate" or published policy.
Because companies are legal persons, they also may associate and register themselves as companies – often known as a corporate group. When the company closes it may need a "death certificate" to avoid further legal obligations.
Meanings and definitions
A company can be defined as an "artificial person", invisible, intangible, created by or under law, with a discrete legal personality, perpetual succession, and a common seal. It is not affected by the death, insanity, or insolvency of an individual member.
The English word company has its origins in the Old French military term compaignie (first recorded in 1150), meaning a "body of soldiers", and originally from the Late Latin word companio "companion, one who eats bread [pane] with you", first attested in the Lex Salica as a calque of the Germanic expression *gahlaibo (literally, "with bread"), related to Old High German galeipo "companion" and Gothic gahlaiba "messmate". By 1303, the word referred to trade guilds. Usage of company to mean "business association" was first recorded in 1553, and the abbreviation "co." dates from 1769.
In the United Kingdom, a partnership is not legally a company, but may sometimes be referred to informally as a company. It may be referred to as a firm.
In the United States, a company may be a "corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, trust, fund, or organized group of persons, whether incorporated or not, and (in an official capacity) any receiver, trustee in bankruptcy, or similar official, or liquidating agent, for any of the foregoing". In the US, a company is not necessarily a corporation.
Less common types of companies are:
Note that "Ltd after the company's name signifies limited company, and PLC (public limited company) indicates that its shares are widely held."
In legal parlance, the owners of a company are normally referred to as the "members". In a company limited or unlimited by shares (formed or incorporated with a share capital), this will be the shareholders. In a company limited by guarantee, this will be the guarantors. Some offshore jurisdictions have created special forms of offshore company in a bid to attract business for their jurisdictions. Examples include "segregated portfolio companies" and restricted purpose companies.
There are, however, many, many sub-categories of types of company that can be formed in various jurisdictions in the world.
Companies are also sometimes distinguished for legal and regulatory purposes between public companies and private companies. Public companies are companies whose shares can be publicly traded, often (although not always) on a stock exchange which imposes listing requirements/Listing Rules as to the issued shares, the trading of shares and future issue of shares to help bolster the reputation of the exchange or particular market of an exchange. Private companies do not have publicly traded shares, and often contain restrictions on transfers of shares. In some jurisdictions, private companies have maximum numbers of shareholders.
A parent company is a company that owns enough voting stock in another firm to control management and operations by influencing or electing its board of directors; the second company being deemed as a subsidiary of the parent company. The definition of a parent company differs by jurisdiction, with the definition normally being defined by way of laws dealing with companies in that jurisdiction.