Understanding the Relationship Between Holding Companies and Subsidiaries

Aug, 18 2023


In the complex world of corporate structures, the interplay between various entities forms the backbone of modern business operations. Two such crucial entities are holding companies and subsidiary companies. These terms might sound familiar, but let’s delve deeper into their definitions, the dynamics between them, and some real-world parent company and subsidiary examples.

Defining the Holding Company and Subsidiary Company

A holding company is a central entity that exercises control over one or more subsidiary companies. It doesn’t engage in active business operations of its own but rather owns a significant amount of shares or equity in its subsidiaries. The subsidiary, on the other hand, is a separate legal entity from the holding company, with its own operations and management. However, the holding company’s ownership gives it a level of influence and control over the subsidiary’s decisions.

The relationship between a holding company and a subsidiary is often compared to a parent-child dynamic. The holding company assumes the role of the “parent,” exerting authority and guidance, while the subsidiary acts as the “child,” benefiting from the support and resources provided by the holding company.

Parent Company and Subsidiary: Exploring the Connection

The parent company and subsidiary relationship is one of hierarchical control, where the parent company typically holds a significant percentage of the subsidiary’s shares, usually more than 50%. This ownership allows the parent company to influence the subsidiary’s strategic decisions, operational policies, and financial matters. The degree of control can vary based on the percentage of ownership and the specific terms of the relationship.

To illustrate this concept, let’s consider an example. Company A, a large multinational conglomerate, establishes Company B as its subsidiary in the technology sector. Company A owns 60% of Company B’s shares, making it the majority shareholder. As a result, Company A can appoint members to Company B’s board of directors, participate in significant decisions, and provide financial support when needed. While Company B operates as an independent entity, Company A’s influence is evident in its strategic direction.

Parent Company and Subsidiary Company: Practical Examples

Real-world examples further illuminate the parent company subsidiary relationship. Take the case of Unilever, a global consumer goods giant. Unilever Tea Kenya Limited (UKTL) is a Kenyan subsidiary that operates a tea plantation. When violence erupted after a presidential election, employees of UKTL and their families were affected. They brought a claim against Unilever Plc, the UK-based parent company, alleging a breach of duty of care. The court ruled that the duty of care depended on the level of involvement or intervention of the parent company in the subsidiary’s affairs. Since Unilever Plc did not dictate or advise UKTL’s crisis management plans, the claim was dismissed. This case underscores the importance of the parent company’s role in subsidiary operations.

In the case of Vedanta Resources Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc v Lungowe, the Supreme Court held that a parent company owes a duty of care to the subsidiary’s employees if active management and control of the subsidiary can be proven. Here, the extent of the parent company’s involvement influenced the legal responsibility.

Parent Company Subsidiary: Striking a Balance

While parent companies exercise significant control, it’s essential to strike a balance between guidance and subsidiary autonomy. Subsidiaries maintain their legal independence and have their own board of directors, management teams, and operational strategies. However, the parent company’s influence ensures alignment with the broader corporate objectives and standards.

To maintain subsidiary independence, parent companies can employ various strategies. They can appoint their own directors to the subsidiary’s board, create provisions in articles of incorporation, and outline clear bylaws for decision-making and governance. This allows the parent company to exercise its control without stifling the subsidiary’s initiative.

Mother company and subsidiary: Maximizing Synergy and Opportunity

Continuing our exploration, let’s delve deeper into the strategies that parent companies use to maximize the synergy and opportunities within their subsidiary relationships.

1. Strategic Alignment and Direction:

Parent companies often establish subsidiaries to diversify their operations, expand into new markets, or capitalize on emerging trends. For instance, a tech conglomerate might create a subsidiary specializing in artificial intelligence to tap into the growing AI market. By aligning the subsidiary’s objectives with the parent company’s overarching goals, both entities work in harmony towards shared success.

2. Resource Sharing and Expertise:

Parent companies provide subsidiaries with access to resources, expertise, and support that may not be available otherwise. This can include financial backing, research and development capabilities, established distribution networks, and managerial know-how. These shared resources empower subsidiaries to accelerate growth and innovation.

3. Risk Management and Efficiency:

Subsidiaries can benefit from the risk management strategies of their parent companies. With diversified operations, a parent company can absorb losses from one subsidiary without jeopardizing the entire business. Additionally, parent companies often implement standardized processes and best practices across subsidiaries, promoting operational efficiency and consistency.

In conclusion, the parent company subsidiary relationship is a dynamic and intricate partnership that drives business growth and innovation. While parent companies provide guidance, resources, and support, subsidiaries contribute their unique strengths and capabilities. This collaboration creates a synergy that enables both entities to thrive in an ever-evolving business landscape. As companies continue to expand their horizons, the parent company subsidiary relationship will remain a cornerstone of strategic business development and success.


What is an example of a parent company and subsidiary?

A notable example of a parent company and subsidiary relationship is Unilever Plc and Unilever Tea Kenya Limited (UKTL). Unilever Plc, the parent company, owns and controls UKTL, its subsidiary, which operates a tea plantation in Kenya. This relationship demonstrates how a parent company can exert influence and control over its subsidiary’s operations while maintaining separate legal entities.

What is a parent company and its subsidiaries called?

A parent company and its subsidiaries collectively form a corporate group or conglomerate. The parent company is often referred to as the “holding company,” while its subsidiary companies are collectively known as the “subsidiary group.” This structure allows the parent company to exercise control and ownership over its subsidiaries while benefiting from their diverse operations.

Does a parent company have subsidiaries?

Yes, a parent company can have one or more subsidiaries. In fact, the parent company subsidiary relationship is a common and integral aspect of modern corporate structures. Subsidiaries are established by the parent company to engage in specific business activities, expand into new markets, or operate in distinct industries. The parent company’s ownership of a majority of the subsidiary’s shares grants it control over the subsidiary’s decisions and operations.
Is there anything else you would like to know about parent companies and subsidiaries? Feel free to ask!

Author of the article
Understanding the Relationship Between Holding Companies and Subsidiaries
Valentina Khlavich
Managing Partner
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