Europe’s 13 largest privately held companies

Two unknown giants are leading the ranking

If the names ‘Vitol’ and ‘Trafigura’ are unfamiliar to you, then your are in good company. Vitol and Trafigura Beheer are rarely mentioned in the general news, although they are leading the ranking of the 13 largest privately held companies in Europe by revenue:

  1. Vitol Holding B.V. – Revenue: 270 billion USD
  • The Vitol Group is a global energy- and commodity trading company that was founded in Rotterdam (Netherlands) in 1966 by Henk Viëtor and Jacques Detiger. Other Vitol-activities include refining, shipping, terminals, exploration and production, power generation, mining and retail businesses. Vitol has 40 offices worldwide and its largest operations are in Geneva, Houston, London, and Singapore.
  1. Trafigura Beheer B.V. – Revenue: 122 billion USD
  • Trafigura Beheer BV is a multinational commodity trading company founded in 1993 by Claude Dauphin and Eric de Turckheim. Although headquatered in Geneva (Switzerland), Trafigura is officially registered and incorporated in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and has built or purchased stakes in pipelines, mines, smelters, ports and storage terminals.
  1. Schwarz Group – Revenue: 80 billion USD
  • The Schwarz Group is a German retail group which owns and operates the Kaufland and Lidl stores. Based in small town Neckarsulm (north of Stuttgart) the Schwarz Groupe is owned by the Dieter Schwarz Foundation. Dieter Schwarz is the richest German and known to be very protective of his privacy, with only two photographs of him known to exist.
  1. Robert Bosch GmbH – Revenue: 71 billion USD
  • Robert Bosch (founded in 1886) is a German multinational engineering and electronics company headquatered in Gerlingen, near Stuttgart. Bosch is the world’s largest supplier of automotive components which generate around 60% of its revenues. In Romania, Bosch is present since 1994 and employs currently almost 3000 people on four sites (Bucharest, Cluj, Blaj and Timisoara). In 2014, sales in Romania were 210 million EUR.
  • 5. Louis Dreyfus B.V. – Revenue: 65 billion USD
  • Dreyfus is an international conglomerate, founded in 1851 and incorporated in Amsterdam. The company development grain trading and expanded into metal, oil, energy, shipping, real estate and telecom. Dreyfus is the ‘D’ of the ‘ABCD-quartet’ that dominates the world’s agriculture trading. The other members are the three US-companies Archer-Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill. Chairwoman at Dreyfus is Margarita Louis Dreyfus. The swiss billionaire is the widow of former company head Robert Louis Dreyfus and she’s also the owner of the football team Olympique de Marseille. Her new partner is Philip Hildebrand, also swiss and vice chairman at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset-manager – so it’s fair to say, that the description ‘power-couple’ is no understatement in this case.

6. Aldi Einkauf GmbH – Revenue: 63 billion USD

  • Aldi is a global discount supermarket chain based in Germany (headquatered in Mühlheim and Essen, both in North Rhine-Westfalia) with almost 10’000 stores in 18 countries. The chain was founded by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht (Aldi stands for ‘Albrecht-Discount’) when they took over their mother’s store in Essen which had been in operation since 1913.
  • 7. Groupe Auchan SA – Revenue: 62 billion USD
  • Auchan is an international retail group headquartered in Croix (northern France close to the Belgian border) with a presence in 15 countries and 270’000 employees. The company began 1961, when Gérard Muillez opened his first self-service shop in Roubaix in the district of Hauts-Champs. From the french pronunciation of ‘Hauts-Champs’ the name ‘Auchan’ was derived. Auchan is still managed by the famiily. Arnaud Mulliez, the son of the founder, was in charge for years and today’s PDG (Président-directeur générale) is his cousin, Vianney Mulliez.   
  • 8. Edeka Zentrale – Revenue: 59 billion USD
  • Edeka is the largest German supermarket corporation with over 4000 sites – from the corner-store to hypermarkets – all operating under the umbrella organisation Edeka Zentrale AG & Co KG. The company, founded 1898 in Berlin, is today headquatered in Hamburg. The initial name was d.K.for ‘Einkaufsgenossenschaft der Kolonialwarenhändler’ – that’s ‘Purchasing Cooperative of Colonial Goods Retailers’). The company was renamed as ‘Edeka’ in 1913 – a phonetic expansion of the previous abbreviation.


9. INEOS Group – Revenue: 54 billion USD

  • INEOS is a multinational chemical company founded by Jim Ratcliffe, a British chemical engineer turned financier and industrialist. The company is headquartered in Rolle (on the north western shore of Lake Geneva, Switzerland) and is organised into around 20 standalone business units, each with its own board. Ineos is an acronym of INspec Ethylene OxideSpecialities, a name derived from their first acquisition in 1998. It also stems from one Latin and two Greek words that Ratcliffe and his two sons found when searching for a company name. “Ineo” is Latin for a new beginning, “Eos” is the Greek goddess of dawn and “neos” means something new and innovative.


10. REWE Group – Revenue: 51 billion USD

  • REWE is a German diversified retail and tourism cooperative based in Cologne (and for many years the main sponsor of the local Bundesliga team 1.FC Köln). The name REWE comes from Revisionsverband der Westkauf-Genossenschaften”, meaning “Western Buying Co-operatives Auditing Association”. The basis of the co-operative trade group consists of a network of independent retailers. In Romania, REWE is present through travel-operator ‘Dertour’ or the ‘Penny’- and ‘Billa’-supermarkets. In December 2015, French retail-giant Carrefour announced to acquire ‘Billa Romania’ (who operates 86 stores in the country) from REWE. This deal is currently subject to approval by antitrust authorities.


11. Leclerc SA – Revenue: 48 billion USD

  • Leclerc is a French hypermarket chain with the headquarters in Ivry-sur-Seine in the southeastern suburbs of Paris. The company was founded in 1948 by Edouard Leclerc who started with 5’000 french francs when he opened his first grocery shop, buying directly from factories and selling biscuits, oil and soaps at prices 30% lower than rivals. Today, Leclerc’s chain contains 550 locations in France – and 114 abroad – that sells everything from groceries and petrol to clothing and jewellery as well as holidays, all at competitive prices. The uncommon result: Leclerc is France’s biggest food distributor on one hand and the second largest bookseller on the other. Leclerc is in a strategic partnership with REWE.


12. Mousquetaires Group – Revenue: 36 billion USD

  • ‘Les  Mousquetaires’ (founded 1969 by Jean-Pierre Le Roch) a privately owned retailing ‘symbol group’ based Bondoufle, outside Paris. A simbol group is a form of franchise in the retail sector. They do not own or operate stores, but act as suppliers to independent grocers and small supermarkets and produce stores which then trade under a common banner. Mousquetaires Group operates several brands for different retail segments, which are mostly suffixed by the term “marché” (French for market) like ‘Intermarché’, ‘Ecomarché’, ‘Bricomarché’ or ‘Restaurantmarché’ The stores are independent businesses, but they are supplied with products and central services by the Mousquetaires group.

13. INGKA Holding B.V. (IKEA) – Revenue: 29 billion USD

  • At last, a privately held company very well known by the general public all over the world. IKEA was founded in Sweden in 1943 by 17 (!) year-old Ingvar Kamprad. The name IKEA stands for the initials of founder Ingvar Kamprad, Elmtaryd (the farm where he grew up) and Agunnaryd (his hometown in south Sweden). Although IKEA markets the swedish lifestyle in it’s 380 stores in 47 countries around the globe extensively, the company is incorporated – as so many in this list – as a ‘BV’ in the Netherlands. And frugal founder Kamprad, who is listed as one of the world’s richest people, lived for the better part of his life in Switzerland to avoid the high-tax regime of his home country sweden, driving around in a 1993 Volvo 240.


Info-box: BV 

  • In case you ask yourself, why so many of the largest private companies – although internationally active – are incorporated in the Netherlands and what the suffix ‘BV’ stands for – here is the answer. ‘BV’ stands for “Besloten Vennootschap’ and is the dutch version of a private company with limited liability. A ‘BV’ has similar features as the German “GmbH”, the American “LLC”, or the British “Ltd”.  in 2012, Dutch company law has changed. As a result thereof the procedure to incorporate a BV has been simplified and the cost of incorporation has significantly reduced. For instance, there is no longer a minimum capital requirement and also the necessity to provide for a bank statement upon incorporation has been abolished. That’s why the BV is still one of the most popular entities to be used as a holding of financing company in international structures.


The Netherlands are the preferred location in Europe to incorporate large privately held companies.


One comment

  1. Thank you ever so for you article post.Really thank you! Want more.

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