Mark Zuckerberg controls 57.9% of all votes among Facebook shareholders [1]. Currently, Facebook's market capitalization is more than $650B. It has been among the global top 10 public corporations by this measure for a long time.

Which company is currently the next largest by means of market capitalization in which a single person controls the majority of the shareholder votes? Also of interest: in which a single entity (possibly institutional) takes that position.

PS: please help me out with the tags

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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because it doesn't really have any relevance to the field of economics. $\endgroup$ – curiousdannii Jun 19 '20 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ @curiousdannii I was actually unsure as of which SE community this would fit in the best. Do you have any suggestions? I have a couple more questions of this kind on my mind. $\endgroup$ – Elon Musk Jun 20 '20 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there is one - no site's topic is about basic facts. $\endgroup$ – curiousdannii Jun 21 '20 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ I would add that besides not fitting this site, any answer can lose value as this can change at any time. $\endgroup$ – JoaoBotelho Jun 25 '20 at 13:22

This question is likely to go stale pretty fast, for two reasons. First, ownership and control of companies is always subject to change; and second, market capitalization can also show substantial swings from quarter to quarter (see Apple's valuation at \$835 billion in Q1 2019 vs \$1,305 billion in Q4 2019 for just one example). I'm writing this in June 2020 and will try to indicate dates on my sources, but it won't be constant.

However, I do think there is value to answering this, to the extent that it explains not-commonly-understood aspects of how corporations work in practice.

The crucial distinction being made in this question is between voting rights and share ownership. You have to go pretty far down on the list to find a company for which stock constituting majority ownership is still in the hands of a single individual; however, it is not uncommon for companies to have dual voting structures which allocate more votes to the share types owned by insiders--a control structure which is considered harmful by knowledgeable commentators. In the example given, Zuckerberg does not own 58% of Facebook; he just has a majority of the insider shares, which get 10 votes each (as opposed to 1 vote for the publicly traded shares).

So ultimately the question is about control of the companies' decision-making--leadership and policies--and the extent to which outside investors can direct that. To answer that we have to look in quite some detail at their voting structures.

The following list is companies by largest market capitalization as of March 31, 2020:

  1. Microsoft: no dual structure

  2. Apple, Inc: one-share one-vote, no absolute majority shareholder. Has made moves to allow large investors more of a say in nominating board members.

  3. Amazon.com: one-share one-vote, no absolute majority shareholder (Bezos remains plurality controller with roughly 16% of the vote)

  4. Alphabet has majority control in the hands of two people (Larry Page and Sergey Brin)

  5. Alibaba Group: Up until late last year, when founder Jack Ma stepped down and relinquished a lot of control, this would probably have been the winner. It's tough to say, because due to restrictions on foreign ownership, Chinese business structures are very complicated--lots of shell corporations. The company was originally listed in the US because its dual-share structure was illegal in China. Also, Alibaba is worth more than Facebook, so it wouldn't be the next one after Facebook...

  6. Facebook, Inc -- already discussed

  7. Tencent -- fuzzy. I haven't gone to the Chinese sources on this, and there's a lot of chaff in the search results; news about Tencent's control of online gaming and music sales is drowning out information about who controls Tencent. This is a possible candidate.

  8. Berkshire Hathaway -- Warren Buffett controls about a third of the votes as of 2018

  9. Visa -- charter appears to prevent anyone from owning more than 15% of the vote

  10. Johnson & Johnson -- does not appear to have dual voting structure

I suspect it's going to be tough to find a similarly high-placed firm with sole-individual voting control, because even among firms with dual-class stock structures, most of the time those shares are split among cofounders, as with Page & Brin, or the cofounders of Lyft (who share something like 49% of the voting rights). Also, I'm having trouble finding a good summary of firms by current market capitalization; the easily-structured lists I'm seeing are for end 2019 (e.g.) or are from dodgy-looking sites.

However, even looking at majority vote control doesn't resolve the issue; you still really have to dig into the details on a company-by-company basis. For instance, Elon Musk effectively controls Tesla, despite having only around a fifth of the vote, because the charter requires nigh-impossible supermajorities for investors to challenge management decisions.

We can at least set a floor on the query: EchoStar Communications, market cap as of this writing \$3 billion, has a "substantial majority" of votes controlled by the founder. So any other candidate would have to have a market capitalization between \$3 billion and \$265 billion.

The short answer is it's difficult to find any single individual who has the level of influence and direct control that Zuckerberg has, but there are plenty of firms--especially in the tech sector--with structures that give founders a long-term controlling interest. Facebook is unique in having one founder and being so blatant, but the trend is quite common.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for this well-sourced in-depth answer! Just a couple of remarks here: "First, ownership and control of companies is always subject to change; and second, market capitalization can also show substantial swings from quarter to quarter" -- true, but rather theoretical. Such very powerful positions rarely change their state, and the market capitalization change from quarter to quarter usually approximately scales with index performance and doesn't affect the valuation ranking more than +/- 2. $\endgroup$ – Elon Musk Jun 18 '20 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ Also, we can raise the floor by referring to SpaceX: Musk owns 54% of SpaceX and controls voting rights for 78% of the shares. source It has been valuated at more than $30B in its latest funding rounds and is estimated to reach more than \$50B if they can pull off Starlink internet service. $\endgroup$ – Elon Musk Jun 18 '20 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Sorry your question didn't see more love. I agree, shifts in market position are usually slow, but you see kind of punctuated equilibria--2014 showed a lot of movement; several of the 2015 non-US players vanished entirely after quite high positions; etc. Answers here can be around for a decade, so I think it's fair to point out change over that scale. As to SpaceX, it's privately held--not clear whether that's in scope? In any event, there's a lot of detail to investigate for the remaining candidates; I think I'd look for a more precise research question before digging further. $\endgroup$ – Tiercelet Jun 18 '20 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ I'm OK with the question's votes, I know they are personal so nothing wrong with the question. And actually, when I wrote the previous comments and re-read the question I was surprised to see that I didn't restrict it to public companies, so I took the opportunity :-) But maybe I should edit the question in this respect, else I think Saudi Aramco would be the clear winner. $\endgroup$ – Elon Musk Jun 18 '20 at 20:29

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