* Denotes company whose stock is publicly traded.
Revenue and employment figures are the most recent available.
The ranking from our 2009 list is given in parentheses. (NR) = Not ranked
1 Wal-Mart Stores Inc.*(1)
Discount retail chainBentonville, AR
Revenues: $421.85 billion
Employees: 2.1 million
From a single store in Arkansas, founder Sam Walton (d. 1992) and younger brother James L. (Bud) built Wal-Mart into the world’s largest retailer. It now has more than 8,400 stores. Sam’s descendants own 45%. Sam’s son S. Robson Walton, 66, is chairman; he has focused on environmental sustainability in the company’s practices and product offerings. A private company, Walton Enterprises LLC, serves as the family’s investment vehicle and holds about 1.68 billion shares of Wal-Mart stock; individual family members also own shares in their own names.
2 Ford Motor Co.*(2)
Auto manufacturerDearborn, MI
Revenues: $128.95 billion
Pioneering auto firm now in fourth generation. Henry Ford (1863-1947) introduced mass production. His grandson Henry II (1917-1987) rebuilt the company as CEO, 1960-1980, with younger brother William (retired 1995) as finance committee chairman. William’s son William Clay (Bill) Ford Jr., 53, now the executive chairman of the board of directors, served as president, CEO and COO until naming Alan Mulally as his replacement in 2006. The Ford family owns 40% of the voting shares. Also in 2006, the company borrowed $23.6 billion, which provided a cash cushion when the economy tanked in 2008. In 2009, the company sold its Jaguar and Land Rover brands to India’s Tata Group for $2.3 billion; in 2010, it sold its Volvo subsidiary to a Chinese conglomerate. Ford was the only American automaker to survive the industry’s downturn of 2008-09 without a government bailout.
3 Cargill Inc. (4)
Revenues: $107.88 billion
Largest private company in the U.S. Founded by William Cargill to provide grain elevators. Controlled by fourth-generation descendants of Cargill and his son-in-law John MacMillan. The company distributes commodities, grain, and poultry in 65 countries. An outsider is CEO, but family members serve on the board and own 88% of the company. In January 2011, Cargill announced its intent to divest its 64% stake in fertilizer company Mosaic, a complex process that will enable the company to stay private while allowing family members and trusts to effectively cash out of some of their holdings.
4 Koch Industries Inc. (3)
Holding companyWichita, KS
Revenues: $100 billion
Founder Fred C. Koch developed an improved method of converting heavy oil into gasoline in 1927. The company grew into an empire encompassing oil and gas services, real estate and manufacturing. Fred’s sons Charles, 75, and David, 70, control the company; they bought out brothers Frederick and William (David’s twin) in a transaction that resulted in 13 years of litigation. The company operates oil refineries in Alaska, Minnesota and Texas; controls about 4,000 miles of pipeline; and runs a commodities trading and services operation. Its Matador Cattle Company operates three ranches. It owns or has interests in nitrogen fertilizer plants in the U.S., Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago. Its Georgia-Pacific unit makes brands that include Brawny, Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Vanity Fair and Dixie. Koch’s polymer and fiber products include Stainmaster carpet and Lycra. The secretive brothers have become known for bankrolling conservative causes.
5 Carlson Companies Inc. (5)
Travel, hotels, restaurantsMinnetonka, MN
Revenues: $38 billion
Curtis Carlson (1914-1999) used a $55 loan to start a company that provided trading stamps to grocery stores, an early program that encouraged consumer loyalty. When the stamp business slowed in the 1960s, he went on to buy hotel and restaurant chains. Today the company operates 1,000 hotels under brands such as Radisson and Country Inns & Suites. It also owns the T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant chain and a global travel service. Chairman Marilyn Carlson Nelson, 72, and director Barbara Carlson Gage, 69, daughters of the founder, each own half the company.
6 Comcast Corp.*(7)
Cable TV and broadcasting
Revenues: $37.94 billion
Ralph Roberts, 90, bought a fledgling cable TV system in Mississippi in 1963 and began expanding throughout the state. Then he bought local operations in other states. Today Comcast is the nation’s largest cable company with 23 million subscribers. The company also has 17 million broadband Internet customers. In 2011, Comcast completed the acquisition of NBCUniversal, the network broadcaster and theme park operator. It also owns other cable channels, including E! and the Golf Channel. Ralph Roberts remains chairman emeritus, while his son Brian, 51, is CEO and chairman. Brian owns all the super-voting shares.
7 News Corp.*(6)
Media conglomerateNew York, NY
Revenues: $33.4 billion
When Keith Murdoch died in 1952, he passed on a newspaper company to his son Rupert, 80, who built the business into a global media giant with holdings in film, television and publishing. The company’s Fox Broadcasting has achieved growing ratings and provides a platform for conservative commentators. In December 2007, the company acquired Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Other holdings include the Times of London and book publisher HarperCollins. A 2011 phone hacking scandal caused the company to close its U.K. tabloid News of the World. Rupert Murdoch and his son James, 38, the company’s deputy COO, testified before a Parliament committee investigating the scandal. News Corp. owns 39% of pay-TV operator British Sky Broadcasting; after the hacking scandal, the company dropped its bid to acquire the remaining 61% of BSkyB. In 2011, the company spent $674 million to buy a television production company operated by Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth, 42. Some shareholders have called for Rupert Murdoch to step down. Murdoch’s sons James and Lachlan, 39, serve on the board. A family trust owns 38% of the voting stock.
8 HCA Holdings Inc.*(10)
Hospital operatorNashville, TN
Revenue: $31.5 billion
Dr. Thomas Frist and his son Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., 71, were among the partners who founded HCA (Hospital Corporation of America). The company went public in 1969. In the 1970s and 1980s, the company acquired hundreds of U.S. hospitals and became known as the largest private operator of health care facilities. In the 1990s, HCA merged with Louisville, Ky.-based Columbia Hospital Corporation. Amid government scrutiny over the company’s business practices, Frist Jr. became chairman and CEO and restructured HCA, selling off non-hospital businesses and several facilities. In 2006 Frist Jr., with three private equity firms, took the company private in a $30 billion LBO. The company went public again in 2011. Today the board includes sons of Frist Jr., William R. Frist, 41, and Thomas Frist III, 43. Besides operating 160 hospitals in the U.S. and U.K., the company runs 100 ambulatory surgery centers as well as cancer treatment centers. HCA accounts for 5% of all hospital services in the U.S.
9 Bechtel Group (9)
Engineering, construction, project managementSan Francisco, CA
Revenues: $30.8 billion
The largest engineering company in the U.S. was started by rancher Warren A. Bechtel, who specialized in railroad and highway construction. He helped build the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. Son Stephen took over the company and helped build the Oakland Bay Bridge and naval ships in World War II. Stephen Jr., 86, became CEO in 1965 and worked on megaprojects, including the trans-Alaska pipeline and the Washington, D.C., subway. Stephen Jr. controls the company along with son Riley, 59, the CEO. In recent years, the company has worked on high-speed rail projects and giant solar power stations. Bechtel was hired to help contain the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant following an earthquake in March 2011.
10 Mars Inc. (12)
Revenues: $30 billion
After failing at several attempts to build a candy business, Frank Mars invented the Milky Way candy bar in 1923. Son Forrest feuded with his father and started his own company, which introduced Uncle Ben’s rice and M&Ms. In 1964, Forrest merged his business back into the family company. Forrest died in 1999 at age 95. Brands now include Skittles, 3 Musketeers and Starburst. Mars acquired the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. in 2008. The company grew during the recent recession as consumers continued buying candy. Forrest’s son John, 75, is chairman. Forrest Jr., 79, is retired CEO.
11 Tyson Foods Inc.*(10)
Food processorSpringdale, AR
Revenues: $28.43 billion
Founder John W. Tyson began buying chickens in Arkansas and transporting them to Chicago. He later started raising chickens and processing them. Today the company is one of the largest producers of chicken, beef and pork. It also makes processed foods, such as chicken tenders. The company has begun a joint venture to supply meat byproducts that can be used to produce synthetic fuel. John Tyson’s son Donald entered the business in 1952 and became chairman and CEO in 1967 when his father died. Donald made a series of acquisitions, including Holly Farms, that doubled the size of the company. He controlled the company until his death in 2011. The voting shares have passed to relatives. His son John H. Tyson, 57, remains as chairman. Also on the board is Barbara Tyson, 61, the widow of Donald’s half-brother Randal.
12 Publix Super Markets Inc. (13)
Revenues: $25.3 billion
After resigning as manager of the Piggly Wiggly grocery in Winter Haven, Fla., George Jenkins opened a competing store next door. He became a pioneering developer of supermarkets, opening his 100th store in 1964. The company introduced its 1,000th unit in 2009. Publix was one of the first grocers to offer air conditioning and bar-code scanners. The chain opened 20 stores in 2010 and plans 25 more in 2011. While two-thirds of the units are in Florida, there are also stores in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Ed Crenshaw, 60, a grandson of the founder, became CEO in 2008. Carol Jenkins Barnett, 53, is chairman. Charles Jenkins, 66, and Howard Jenkins, 58, serve on the board. Stock has been offered to employees since 1930. They now own 30%.
13 Murphy Oil Corp.*(15)
El Dorado, AR
Revenues: $23.35 billion
Charles H. Murphy Sr. started investing in oil in 1907. After World War I, his son Charles Jr. (d. 2002) expanded into oil and gas production. Claiborne Deming, 56, nephew of Charles Jr., served as CEO from 1994 through 2008. The business grew rapidly under Deming. Today the company has 184 million barrels of oil reserves and operates 1,000 Murphy Oil USA gas stations, including many located in parking lots of Wal-Mart stores. Deming serves on the board along with R. Madison Murphy, 53, son of Charles Jr.
14 Aflac Inc.*(19)
Revenues: $20.88 billion
Brothers John, Paul and William Amos founded American Family Life Assurance Company to sell health and accident coverage. The company struggled until it introduced the first cancer-expense policy in 1958. In 1970, John decided to sell cancer coverage in Japan. Today the company is an industry leader in Japan’s cancer-insurance market with 14 million policies in force. Japan accounts for 75% of sales. The rest comes from supplemental policies in the U.S. In 1990, John died and was succeeded as CEO by his nephew Dan, 60. Dan holds 9% of the company. His son Paul, 38, is president.
15 C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. (14)
Revenues: $19.4 billion
Israel Cohen co-founded a wholesale grocery with Abraham Siegel. In 1921, Cohen bought out his partner and ran the company for 50 years. In 1981, he turned the business over to his son Lester, who soon brought in his sons Jim and Richard, who became CEO. The family began acquiring competitors and expanding, growing from $98 million in sales in 1981 to $1 billion in 1992. Richard remains CEO. The company now operates 50 distribution warehouses that serve supermarkets, retail chains and military bases. Big customers include Safeway, Target and A&P.
16 Illinois Tool Works Inc.*(17)
Industrial equipmentGlenview IL
Revenues: $17.2 billion
After founding Chicago’s Northern Trust Co. in 1889, patriarch Byron L. Smith (1853-1914) financed two Swedish toolmakers to form ITW. He later took control and handed the operation to his younger sons Walter and Harold C. Smith. Harold C.’s son Harold Byron Smith (d. 1990) took charge after World War II and diversified from fasteners, screws and washers into packaging systems, engineering components and computer supplies. The conglomerate now controls 825 separate companies in 52 countries. Harold B.’s son Harold Jr. served as a director from 1968 until he retired in 2010 and became an emeritus board member. He was succeeded by nephew David B. Smith, 43.
17 Pilot Travel Centers LLC (29)
Roadside rest stopsKnoxville, TN
Revenues: $17 billion
James Haslam II started with a gas station. The company began building convenience stores and opened its first travel center in 1981. Now James Haslam III, 57, is CEO of a company that runs 300 truck stocks in 40 states, selling 10% of all truck diesel fuel used in the U.S. Each travel center features franchise restaurants, including Arby’s, Dairy Queen and KFC, that are owned and operated by Pilot. CVC Capital Partners, a private equity group, acquired a 47.5% interest in Pilot Travel Centers in 2008. In 2010, Pilot expanded by acquiring the travel centers of Flying J, a bankrupt operator that had centers in 40 states.
18 Jabil Circuit Inc.*(26)
Electronics manufacturing services
St. Petersburg, FL
Revenues: $16.1 billion
The company was named for founders James Golden and William Morean, who supplied assembly services to electronics manufacturers. In 1969 they began making printed circuit boards. In 1977, co-founder’s son William D. Morean, 55, bought a 51% stake in the company and became CEO and chairman. He began building computer components for major companies, including Dell and Sun Microsystems. In 1999, William stepped aside as CEO but remained chairman. The company has been expanding in emerging markets, opening facilities in Brazil, China and India. The Morean family owns 13% of stock. The company suffered a big loss in 2009 but recorded profits in 2010.
19 H.E. Butt Grocery Co. (23)
Food stores, bread bakeries
San Antonio, TX
Revenues: $14.75 billion
Florence Butt opened the first store in Kerrville, Texas. Grandson Charles, 73, became CEO in 1971. Today the company operates 315 supermarkets in Texas and Mexico. Giant H-E-B Plus stores range up to 200,000 square feet and include general merchandise such as casual furniture, books and electronics. Catering to heavily Hispanic markets, the chain features tortillas and fajita meat. To fend off growing competition from Wal-Mart, H.E. Butt is slashing prices and purchasing failing Albertsons stores in Central Texas. The company is opening gourmet Central Market stores in major cities.
20 The Gap Inc.*(18)
Retail chainSan Francisco, CA
Revenues: $14.66 billion
Donald (d. 2009) and Doris Fisher, 79, opened their first store in 1969 and concentrated on selling Levi’s jeans. At first they focused on teenagers, but in the 1970s the stores expanded to provide casual clothes to a wider range of customers. By the 1980s, the chain was operating 500 stores and sold only Gap brand clothing. The company added Banana Republic in 1983 and Old Navy in 1994. After suffering a long period of declining sales, Gap increased revenues in 2010. In October 2011, the company said it would close nearly 200 U.S. stores and downsize others to focus on global expansion. The Fisher family still owns one-third of the company. Doris served as a director from 1969 through 2009. Son Robert, 55, has been on the board since 1990. Son William, 53, joined the board in 2009.