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A company is an economically independent organizational unit , with the help of planning - and decision-making tools market and capital risks comes in and the pursuit of the corporate purpose and the corporate objectives of one or more establishments operated.

Companies organized under private law are collectively referred to as private sector . In contrast, the aggregate of the public sector includes public companies , corporations under private law and institutions under public law ( municipal companies ); they represent a mixed form and - like clubs - are mostly subject to the cost recovery principle .

In Germany there are around three million companies subject to VAT, around two thirds of them are sole proprietorships .

General term

In everyday language usage, the terms company, society , company and company are synonyms according to the Duden . In the legal and business-related technical languages, however, the terms are differentiated; then z. For example, a company can be a system-independent business entity to cover external requirements, while a company can own one or more companies and a company is only a legal form or an organizational form . In turn, company is technically the name of a company.

The term company is understood differently in different areas of law. In labor law , a company is understood as an organizational unit with which the entrepreneur pursues his economic or non-material purposes. A company can consist of one or more companies. In the first case, the company denotes the economic component, while the company stands for the technical process. In sales tax law , an entrepreneur is someone who carries out a commercial or professional activity independently . The company's definition of sales tax is therefore much broader than in labor law.

Special corporate terms

Business administration

The company is the object of knowledge in business administration , which, however, does not provide a uniform definition. In 1924, Fritz Schmidt placed the economic enterprise in the focus of their observation. “The companies, whether households or companies, are the centers of action and shaping elements of the economy.” Martin Lohmann sees the company as a productive part of a company, he subordinates it to the company. A large number of other scientists, however, subordinated the company term to the company term, for example Erich Gutenberg , who saw a combination of production factors in the company. This subordination is fully adopted by Heinrich Nicklisch , Eugen Schmalenbach or Konrad Mellerowicz . A dispute over methods arose between Gutenberg and Mellerowicz when Gutenberg equated business and enterprise from April 1955. In essence, the question was whether the company or the company was an object of research and knowledge.

For Gutenberg, a company has three constitutive characteristics :

Gutenberg and Erich Kosiol see the concept of the company as a necessary conceptual link to the market economy. Commonly, an organizational unit consisting of things ( machines , warehouses ), rights ( claims , patents ) and other relationships (e.g. goodwill , organization and liabilities ) is referred to as a "company" , the sponsor of which is a natural or legal person or an association of persons is. This means that a company is assigned the technical-performance-oriented sphere and a company is assigned the financial-legal sphere.

In a broader sense, companies can also be regarded as companies if they do not strive for profit. Such companies are known as non-profit companies . A distinction is made between economic non-profit companies, socio-cultural non-profit companies, political non-profit companies and charitable non-profit companies. Since the departure from the commercial principle is not compatible with most traditional business terms, one often speaks of organizations instead of companies (“non-profit organizations”) in this context.

Corporate concept in law

In the Law there is no uniform definition of an undertaking, because the crucial respective legislative purpose is a law. It therefore depends on the respective regulatory objective of a law which content is assigned to the company term. The concept of company plays a major role in stock corporation and GmbH law, for example in group law of “affiliated companies”. However, the laws do not offer a legal definition , but assume that the concept of a company is known. To the legislature, a definition in § § 15 AktG et seq. AktG appeared to be too complicated and was also associated with great practical difficulties. However, jurisprudence does not see the concept of a company as institutionalized to legal persons, but extends it to natural persons if they exercise a dominant position in a dependent company and there is concern that “the shareholder could exert his influence to the detriment of the company for their sake do. ”In jurisprudence, a distinction is made between the functional, institutional and teleological corporate concept.

  • Functional company term : a company exists when a legal or natural person is involved in entrepreneurial planning and decisive;
  • in the institutional definition of enterprise , however, commercial activity in economic life and a minimum of institutional facilities are required.
  • In the teleological interpretation , the decisive criterion is the risk that can arise for the minority shareholders and the creditors, the so-called group-typical risk situation. Even with other legal forms such as a GmbH, an individual can take on company characteristics if they have significant influence in another company.

In addition, a distinction is made between business law and commercial law corporate terms. While commercial law has an institutional content, the civil and commercial law corporate term is characterized as a structure with objective quality. The group law and that contained in § 1 GWB are based on a subjective company term, which includes legal entities with entrepreneurial activity. In June 2000 the terms consumer and entrepreneur were added to the BGB . Since then, Section 14 (1) of the German Civil Code (BGB) has understood the entrepreneur to be a natural or legal person or a partnership with legal capacity who , when concluding a legal transaction, acts in their commercial or independent professional activity. From the point of view of the BGB, it is important that commercial or self-employed activities are in the foreground in legal transactions. In its definition, the legislature has been guided by the term entrepreneur in Section 2 (1) of the Sales Tax Act , according to which an entrepreneur is someone who carries out a commercial or professional activity independently. According to this provision, the company includes the entire commercial or professional activity of the entrepreneur. In terms of value-added tax law, any sustainable activity to generate income is considered commercially or professionally, even if there is no intention to make a profit. This also includes public-law companies such as public-law institutions that do not pursue any profit- making intent. This means that the legal classification of non-profit companies is in line with the business perspective.

For the purposes of company acquisitions, the company is defined as the totality of material and immaterial legal assets in which people work together with the aim of developing economic activities on a planned and lasting basis.


Companies can be differentiated internationally according to the following criteria:

According to legal forms

Company in Germany Number 2004 Number 2013
one-man business 2,060,000 2,198,392
Limited Liability Companies (GmbH) 452.955 518.427
Open trading companies (OHG, GmbH & Co. OHG) and
civil law companies (GbR)
259.275 220,572
Limited partnerships (KG and GmbH & Co. KG) 116,630 152.349
Stock corporations (AG), limited partnerships based on shares (KGaA) 7.190 7,907
Businesses of a commercial nature from corporations under public law 6,025 6.339
Commercial and economic cooperatives 5,470 5,573
Other legal forms 45,490 63.104
All in all 2,953,035 3,172,663

The legal form of a company includes all legal regulations through which it becomes a legally comprehensible unit. Legal forms can be distinguished on the basis of some central characteristics. This includes, among other things, the legally prescribed liability capital when setting up a company, the liability regime or tax treatment. The legal form also determines whether a company has its own legal personality or whether its partners act as natural persons . If a company changes its legal form, one speaks of a conversion. For example, lender requirements, changes in the number of shareholders, changes in tax laws or changes in company size (due to growth or shrinkage) are significant influencing factors.

A fundamental distinction is made between legal forms under private law and public law, all of which are stipulated by law (except for some mixed forms under private law).

Legal forms under private law

Legal forms under public law

According to company phases

Development of corporate insolvencies in Germany since 1970

A distinction is made between the phases of a company according to the founding phase (pioneer phase), sales phase (market development, diversification , acquisition , cooperation and restructuring ) and liquidation phase . In the context of the genetic structure of business administration, Wöhe / Döring speak of the founding, operating and liquidation phases . A distinction can also be made between the start-up, development and crisis phases .

If a company can no longer meet its payment obligations to creditors, it usually leads to bankruptcy . Companies can also move into the liquidation phase without ever having reached the sales phase. A company generally has no defined end point. It is not a one-off, but an ongoing project with initially unlimited resources. This differs from a project that can, however, be part of a company.

A large company reaches an average age of 75 years. However, there are numerous companies that are several hundred years old. Some of the world's oldest family businesses have come together to form the Association les Hénokiens . The oldest German company is the von Poschinger glass factory , founded in 1568. The Japanese temple and castle builder Kongō Gumi , founded in 578, was the oldest family company in the world until its liquidation in January 2006. According to a 2008 study by the Bank of Korea , there were 5586 companies in 41 countries older than 200 years, including 3146 in Japan, 837 in Germany, 222 in the Netherlands and 196 in France.

According to industry

In a rough breakdown according to the economic branch (also branch breakdown ), a distinction must be made between non-cash companies and service companies . In-kind companies are in particular industrial and craft companies. In such companies, a further distinction is made according to the generation level: Extraction companies are companies that produce so-called primary products. These include natural mineral, vegetable or animal resources as well as natural forces. Primary products represent the starting point of the economic process. Companies operating in such areas are summarized under the collective term primary sector . Refining or processing companies ( secondary sector ) ultimately produce intermediate products from the primary products obtained, which in turn are transformed into end products by processing companies (also secondary sector).

Service companies belong to the tertiary sector and do not produce physical goods, but provide immaterial services. Such a service cannot be stored, is hardly transferable and requires an external factor (integration of the external “customer” factor). Their generation and consumption usually coincide in time. One speaks of the uno actu principle .

Overview of companies in Germany according to their allocation to the economic sector in 2012:

Economic activity ( NACE Rev. 2 ) Number of companies Share in% of
all companies
under 250 employees 250 and more employees under 50 million sales 50 and more million sales
Mining and quarrying of stones and earth 2,355 0.06% 2,329 26th 2,318 37
Manufacturing 252,803 6.90% 248,782 4,021 248.236 4,567
power supply 60,473 1.65% 60.286 187 59,888 585
Water supply, sanitation and waste disposal and pollution removal 12,555 0.34% 12,417 138 12,402 153
construction industry 392.624 1.07% 392.386 238 392.360 264
Trade; Maintenance and repair of motor vehicles 670.272 18.30% 668.701 1,571 664,532 4.169
Transportation and storage 121,962 3.33% 121,422 540 121,483 479
Hospitality 248,900 6.79% 248.714 186 248,848 52
information and communication 130,758 3.57% 130,337 421 130,337 444
Provision of financial and insurance services 70.101 1.91% 69,331 770 69,600 501
Real estate and housing 324,562 8.86% 324,499 63 324.386 176
Provision of professional, scientific and technical services 515.188 14.06% 514.620 568 514,687 501
Provision of other economic services 203.354 5.55% 202.111 1,243 203.029 325
Education and instruction 76,566 2.09% 76.191 375 76,552 14th
Health and social services 237,659 6.48% 235,551 2,108 237,492 167
Arts, entertainment and recreation 104,852 2.86% 104,748 104 104,810 42
Provision of other services 238,398 6.51% 238.077 321 238.358 40
total 3,663,432 100.00% 3,650,552 12,880 3,651,275 12,157

According to company size

There is no globally recognized uniform standard of assessment for the size of a company. The German Commercial Code (HGB) differentiates in § 267 HGB according to small corporations, medium-sized corporations and large corporations. The balance sheet total , sales revenues and number of employees are the decisive criteria.

Company size classes Establishments Employees
1 to 5 1,402,442 3,031,445
6 to 9 236.617 1,720,845
10 to 19 187.441 2,511,537
20 to 49 119.101 3,608,795
50 to 99 44,358 3,064,424
100 to 199 22,176 3,049,218
200 to 499 11,934 3,600,869
500 and more 4,643 5,591,133
All in all 2,028,712 26.178.266

After sales in was fiscal year 2011, the oil company Royal Dutch Shell , the world's largest company by market capitalization on 30 June 2012, the hardware and software manufacturer Apple .

Lists of the largest companies are compiled by the US business magazines Forbes and Fortune and the British business newspaper Financial Times , among others . Above all, these include Fortune Global 500 , a list of the 500 companies with the highest turnover in the world, and Financial Times Global 500 , a list of the 500 largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

Forbes offers an alternative, integrative approach that takes into account the four different indicators of sales, profit, assets and market capitalization at the same time with the Forbes Global 2000 list , which only takes listed companies into account. In the 2011 financial year, the oil company ExxonMobil was the largest company in the world.

In Germany, the Monopolies Commission compiles a ranking of the largest companies in Germany in its main report, which is published every two years. The ten largest companies in Germany in terms of value added in 2006 were: Deutsche Telekom , Siemens , DaimlerChrysler , Volkswagen , Deutsche Bahn , Deutsche Post , Deutsche Bank , Robert Bosch GmbH , Bayerische Motoren Werke and BASF .

According to spatial structure

Local businesses are businesses that only have one business in one location. One speaks of regional companies when several operating sites are managed within a geographic region. A so-called national company operates bases within a country.

When it comes to companies that are also active in international markets (internationalization), according to Sumantra Ghoshal and Christopher Bartlett , one speaks of international companies, global companies and multinational companies. Multinational companies are characterized by production locations in several countries. National companies handle the operative business and parts of the strategic tasks. Global companies are centralized companies in which the individual national companies primarily take on distribution tasks. However, strategic decisions and most of the operational decisions are made in the mother country. International companies organize certain strategic departments centrally, others are organized decentrally. This is a hybrid of multinational and global companies.

Conditions of existence and corporate goals

The company's conditions of existence are liquidity (sine qua non), profitability and growth. Liquidity must be secured at all times - even at short notice - in order to be able to meet payment obligations. Profitability must be ensured in the medium to long term, otherwise the liquidity condition cannot be met. Growth is measured in terms of profit, revenue or the number of employees. In order to secure liquidity and profitability, a company must at least grow with the market.

Company goals can be represented in three dimensions. A distinction is made between the economic, social and ecological dimensions. A priority position of the economic dimension results from the constitutive characteristics of every company. Within the economic dimension, a distinction is made between performance targets, financial targets and success targets.


Different forms of internationalization

Internationalization means the geographical decentralization of business activities on international markets. It is becoming more and more important due to the increasing globalization of all corporate activities. Motives for internationalization are securing sales through greater market proximity, lowering wage and ancillary wage costs, circumventing import restrictions, realizing transport cost advantages, investment support measures by foreign countries and independence from the development of exchange rates . The concrete form in which internationalization takes place depends on the situation of the respective company and its strategy. The stages of internationalization depending on capital and management services are export , licensing , franchising , joint venture , foreign branch and subsidiaries .

When it comes to the internationalization of service companies, however, other priorities apply.

Corporate connections

Companies are often part of larger economic entities. A distinction is made between “cooperation” and “concentration”.


Cooperation is the voluntary collaboration between several legally independent companies. A distinction is made between the three types of cartel , consortium and company association . Cartels are cooperations on a contractual basis that are intended to restrict competition. The members of a cartel usually strive for a monopoly position without giving up their independence. In Germany, cartels are prohibited under competition law. Consortia are similar cooperations on a contractual basis, but without relevance to competition law. They are often set up to carry out large projects and then given up again. Business associations are formed to represent common interests vis-à-vis the public or the state. In the case of business associations, a distinction must again be made between trade associations, chambers and employers' associations.

The joint establishment of a new company by several existing companies is also part of the cooperation. However, in contrast to the three classic types of cooperation, such a joint venture is not based solely on a contractual basis. Instead, the cooperation is characterized by equity investments by the company companies.


Concentration is the voluntary or involuntary affiliation of an already existing company to another company. The economic independence of the company is restricted in favor of the higher-level unit. In rare cases it is even completely lost. A distinction is made between mergers and affiliated, legally independent companies. A merger is the merging of several companies into one economic unit. It is carried out either by transferring company assets with prior liquidation or by transferring company assets within the framework of universal succession (only applies to corporations).

In contrast, affiliated companies are linked to one another through capital interdependence or contractual agreements. This can be a minority stake (with participation quotas up to 25 percent), a blocking minority (with participation quotas up to 50 percent), a majority participation (with participation quotas up to 75 percent), a three-quarters majority participation (with participation quotas up to 95 percent) or a Integration participation (with participation rates in the range between 95 and 100 percent).

Business transfer and leasing

Company transfers result in ownership of the company changing. Transfers can occur in particular in the case of company acquisitions and inheritance . In addition, transfers based on donations in the case of so-called anticipated inheritance may also be considered. When companies are transferred, (only) the person of the operator of the company changes, the owner of the company usually remains the same; Use cases are in particular corporate lease and corporate usufruct.

Business cooperation

There are temporary forms of cooperation between companies such as the consortium , the working group or the strategic partnership .

Economic interpretation

The question of why individuals and groups of individuals unite to form companies and thereby carry out transactions outside the market is one of the basic questions of industrial economics .

In addition to reasons of efficiency (technological reasons, companies as a long-term relationship, companies as an institution for the optimal handling of incomplete contracts), the existence of companies can also be explained with pension skimming .

See also

Portal: Company  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of companies

Web links

Wiktionary: Company  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Company  - explanation of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. 2009 sales tax statistics of the Federal Statistical Office. PDF, 176KB.
  2. ^ Company , society and company on, accessed on March 28, 2015.
  3. ^ BAG , judgment of August 7, 1986 - 6 ABR 57/85, BAGE 52, 325, 329
  4. Fritz Schmidt in: Günter Fandel, anniversary issue for the 80th year , ZfB Special Issue, 6/2010, p. 4
  5. ^ Erich Kosiol, pioneer of business administration - appreciation of the research achievements of Leitner and Nicklisch , Berlin / Stuttgart 1950, p. 397.
  6. Martin Lohmann, Introduction to Business Administration , 1955, p. 20
  7. Erich Gutenberg, Fundamentals of Business Administration , Volume 1, Die Produktion , 1958, pp. 381 ff.
  8. ^ Willi Albers, Concise Dictionary of Economics , 1980, from p. 67
  9. ^ Heinrich Nicklisch, Die Betriebswirtschaft , 1932, p. 6 ff.
  10. Eugen Schmalenbach, Pretiale Wirtschaftslenken , Volume 2, 1948, p. 7 ff.
  11. Konrad Mellerowicz, General Business Administration , Volume 1, 1958, p. 17 ff.
  12. Hanns Linhardt, Attack and Defense in the Struggle for Business Administration , 1963, p. 181 ff.
  13. a b Jan Schäfer-Kunz, Dietmar Vahs: Introduction to business administration. Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 2007, p. 8.
  14. ^ Norbert Horn / Ernst Heymann, HGB Third Book , 1999, p. 406
  15. ^ Government draft by Bruno Kropff, Comment on the Stock Corporation Act 1965 , p. 27; Cologne Commentary by Hans-Georg Koppensteiner , Aktiengesetz , 1985, § 15 Rn 8
  16. BGHZ 69, 334, 337 (VEBA / Gelsenberg 1977)
  17. ^ Philipp Möhring, The legal regulation of company connections in: NJW 1967, 1; Bruno Kropff, Corporate Law of the Stock Corporation Act 1965 in: Betriebsberater 1965, 1281, 1285
  18. Michael Kort, The “private” major shareholder as an entrepreneur in: The company 1986, 1909, 1910; Wolfgang Hefermehl , The shareholder as a "company" within the meaning of corporate law , 1971, pp. 203, 214
  19. ^ BGH, judgment of September 16, 1985 (BGHZ 95, 330, 337)
  20. Fritz Rittner / Meinrad Dreher, European and German Commercial Law: A Systematic Presentation , 2008, p. 220 ff.
  21. Roland Michael Beckmann, in: Staudinger (2013) § 453 BGB Rn. 83
  22. Henner Schierenbeck : Fundamentals of business administration. Oldenbourg Wissenschafts-Verlag, Munich 2003, p. 28.
  23. G. Wöhe, U. Döring: Introduction to general business administration. 24th edition, Munich 2010, p. 45 f.
  24. K. Olfert, HJ Rahn: Introduction to Business Administration. 10th edition, Herne 2010, p. 93 ff.
  25. ^ Jan Schäfer-Kunz, Dietmar Vahs: Introduction to business administration. Schäffer-Poeschel, Stuttgart 2007, p. 7.
  26. 日本 に 長寿 企業 が 多 い わ け は? 韓国 銀行 が 分析 . Yonhap News Agency, May 14, 2008, accessed July 18, 2013 (Japanese).
  27. Fortune: Fortune Global 500 on
  28. Financial Times: Financial Times Global 500 on (PDF; 64 kB)
  29. ^ Forbes Global 2000 on
  30. On the main reports of the Monopolies Commission. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on April 8, 2014 ; Retrieved February 25, 2015 . , on Monopolies Commission .de
  31. ^ A b Henner Schierenbeck: Fundamentals of business administration. Oldenbourg Wissenschafts-Verlag, Munich 2003, p. 42.
  32. Henner Schierenbeck: Fundamentals of business administration. Oldenbourg Wissenschafts-Verlag, Munich 2003, p. 62.
  33. Henner Schierenbeck: Fundamentals of business administration. Oldenbourg Wissenschafts-Verlag, Munich 2003, p. 45.
  34. Dirk Holtbrügge, Hartmut H. Holzmüller, Florian von Wangenheim: Management of international services with 3K: Configuration - Coordination of customer integration. Gabler Verlag, 2009, ISBN 3-8349-1778-8 .
  35. Henner Schierenbeck: Fundamentals of business administration. Oldenbourg Wissenschafts-Verlag, Munich 2003, p. 48.
  36. ^ A b c Henner Schierenbeck: Fundamentals of business administration. Oldenbourg Wissenschafts-Verlag, Munich 2003, p. 49.