The great majority of the largest companies in America are easily identified by name by most consumers. That is because their names match one or more of their most important brands. McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) in the fast food business. It is its own largest brand. The same is true for companies including Ford NYSE: F), or Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), or AT&T (NYSE: T).
But there are a number of huge companies, many with revenue in the tens of billions of dollars, many with revenue greater than firms with famous brands, that are almost completely unknown to the public. Investors often do not know the names of these firms and very few know what businesses they are in.
A small number of large companies do not care if the consumer knows their name or what they do. Some make or distribute brand-name products and make massive sums of money doing it. Others supply parts and services to companies that do have major brands. Obscurity does not directly relate to sales, as the companies on this list show.
Among the companies on this list are Altria, which manufactures and distributes Marlboro cigarettes, one of the best know brands in the world. Also on the list is TJX which owns the Marshals department store chain, and Aramark which supplies over one million meals to people in the nation’s prisons.
And now, the list:
Yum! Brands, Inc.
-founded in 1997
-located in Louisville, KY
Yum! Brands, Inc. is the world’s largest restaurant company by chain brands, operating over 37,000 restaurants in over 110 countries and territories. Anyone who has dined at a Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, or Long John Silver’s knows exactly what they do. PepsiCo once owned these operations, but they were spun off in the 1990s under the name Tricon Global Restaurants. They have since changed the name. Yum! Brands sounds better.
-founded in 1885
-located in Milwaukee, WI
Johnson Controls Inc. is a leading manufacturer of automotive interiors for cars and light-trucks. The company designs the components and systems that manage car systems, including seating, door and overhead controls for companies like Toyota, GM, Volkswagen, and Ford. Johnson Controls is also the world’s leading battery manufacturer, making Diehard for Sears, Duralast for AutoZone, Kirkland for Costco, and Motorcraft for Ford. In 2009, they received the largest grant awarded by the United States Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the building of batteries for electric vehicles, totaling $299.2 million.
-founded in 1979
-located in Santa Ana, CA
Ingram Micro Inc. is the world’s largest wholesale technology distributor, including desktops, notebook PCs, storage devices, printers, and software. Representing over 1,300 vendors, including IBM, Nokia, Microsoft and Intel, the company delivers thousands of products to more than 180,000 resellers across the world. Customers include resellers such as Wal-Mart.com, Staples, and Office Depot. Ingram Micro generates about 60% of its sales outside of North America. Because the company acts as a middle man between manufacturer and distributor, it has no interest in being known to the public.
– founded in 1956
– located in Framingham, MA
– 154,000 employees
– $20 billion
TJX retail stores performed well during the recession. That’s because its store brands, which include Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, A.J. Wright, are leading discount retailers. However, few people recognize the name of the stores’ parent company, TJX. This is surprising considering that TJX employs over 150,000 workers in the US and abroad. In addition, the company maintains over 2,175 stores in the US alone, with even more throughout Canada and Europe.
– Founded in 1918
– Located in New York, NY
– 7,000 employees
– $26 billion
TIAA-CREF is the number one retirement system for employees in the academic, research, medical, and cultural fields. It is also one of the largest financial services companies in the U.S with over $426 billion in combined assets under management. In fulfilling this role, the company provides services to about 3.7 million people in the U.S. Bottom line: if you’re a teacher, you will have heard of them. Otherwise, they’ll be a complete mystery.
United Services Automobile Association
– Founded in 1922
– Located in San Antonio, TX
– 21,500 employees
– $18 billion
United Services Automobile Association is a financial services company providing insurance, banking, and investment services to 7.4 million people – making it a significant insurance provider. However, unless you are a member of the United States armed forces you won’t know anything about the company. That’s because the USAA has worked solely to provide for past and present members of the Armed Forces and their families since its founding in 1922.
– Founded in 1902
– Located in Richmond, VA
– 10,000 employees
– $17 billion
Formerly Philip Morris Companies Inc., Altria Group, Inc. is one of the largest tobacco companies in the world. The parent company of Philip Morris USA, John Middleton, Inc., U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, and others, Altria is the name behind popular products such as Marlboros, Virginia Slims, and Parliaments. Regardless of their prominent role, however, Altria has managed to avoid the notoriety which surrounded the Philip Morris name.
– Founded in 1936
– Located in Philadelphia, PA
– 250,000 employees
– $12 billion
Aramark Limited provides facility management, food services, and more to various institutions, including businesses, hospitals, universities, sports and entertainment facilities, and convention centers. The company’s Correctional Services department alone services over 600 correctional facilities, preparing over 1,000,000 meals a day for prisoners and guards. Perhaps for that reason, it’s no wonder that most people don’t know that they have sampled their food.
-Charles B. Stockdale, Douglas A. McIntyre