Subsidiary Company: Definition and How It Works

Article Summary

A subsidiary company is a distinct legal entity that is controlled by another company, known as the parent company. It operates independently to some extent, but the parent company holds a majority or complete ownership stake. This structure allows the parent company to exercise control over the subsidiary’s operations and decision-making processes.

What is a subsidiary company?

A subsidiary company is a separate legal entity that is controlled by another company, known as the parent company. In this corporate structure, the parent company holds a majority or complete ownership stake in the subsidiary. While the subsidiary operates independently to some extent, it is subject to the control and influence of the parent company.

The key characteristic of a subsidiary company is that it has its own legal identity and can enter into contracts, own assets, and engage in business activities on its own behalf. It can have its own management team, employees, and financial accounts. However, the parent company typically holds significant decision-making power and can exercise control over the subsidiary’s operations, strategic direction, and financial management.

The establishment of a subsidiary company allows the parent company to expand its business interests and diversify its operations while maintaining a level of control and coordination. It enables the parent company to extend its market reach, enter new geographical locations, and tap into different customer segments or industries. Additionally, subsidiaries can provide a means for risk management, asset protection, tax optimization, and brand enhancement.

Reasons for establishing a subsidiary company

Expansion into new markets

One of the primary reasons for establishing a subsidiary company is to expand into new markets. By creating a subsidiary in a different geographic location, a company can overcome barriers to entry such as unfamiliar regulations, cultural differences, and local customer preferences. A subsidiary allows the parent company to adapt its products or services to the specific needs of the new market, providing a platform for growth and increased market penetration.

Risk management and asset protection

A subsidiary company provides a layer of separation between the parent company and its subsidiary’s operations. This separation can help mitigate potential risks and protect the parent company’s assets. If the subsidiary encounters financial difficulties or faces legal issues, the liability generally remains limited to the subsidiary itself, shielding the parent company from financial harm. This risk management strategy is particularly beneficial when operating in high-liability industries or when entering unfamiliar markets with inherent risks.

Tax optimization and financial advantages

Establishing a subsidiary company in a favorable tax jurisdiction can lead to tax optimization and financial advantages. Different countries may offer attractive tax incentives, lower tax rates, or exemptions for certain types of business activities. By structuring operations through a subsidiary in such jurisdictions, companies can reduce their overall tax burden, retain more earnings, and improve their financial position. Furthermore, subsidiaries can access local financial resources, government grants, or industry-specific incentives, providing additional financial advantages.

Enhancing brand presence and market share

Creating a subsidiary company can be a strategic move to enhance brand presence and increase market share. By establishing a subsidiary, a company can expand its brand’s reach, target specific customer segments, and capitalize on local market opportunities. This expansion can result in improved brand recognition, increased customer trust, and a competitive advantage over rivals. Through the subsidiary’s localized operations, marketing efforts, and customer engagement, the parent company’s overall market position can be strengthened.

Types of subsidiary companies

When it comes to subsidiary companies, there are various types that can be established based on the ownership structure and the level of control exerted by the parent company. Understanding these different types can help businesses choose the most suitable option for their specific needs. Here are the main types of subsidiary companies:

Wholly-owned subsidiary

A wholly-owned subsidiary is one in which the parent company has complete ownership control. In this scenario, the parent company owns 100% of the subsidiary’s shares. This type of subsidiary offers the highest level of control to the parent company, allowing it to make decisions independently without any external interference. It enables the parent company to exert its strategic vision and maintain consistent branding across all operations.

Majority-owned subsidiary

A majority-owned subsidiary is established when the parent company holds more than 50% ownership stake in the subsidiary. In this case, the parent company has the power to make key decisions and influence the subsidiary’s operations. However, minority shareholders may still have some degree of influence or voting rights. This type of subsidiary provides a balance between control and shared decision-making.

Minority-owned subsidiary

In contrast to a majority-owned subsidiary, a minority-owned subsidiary is one in which the parent company holds less than 50% ownership stake. Despite having a minority stake, the parent company can still exercise influence over the subsidiary’s operations and decisions. This type of subsidiary often occurs in situations where the parent company wants to expand into a new market or industry and seeks a local partner to leverage their expertise and knowledge.

Joint venture as a form of subsidiary company

A joint venture is a unique type of subsidiary company formed through a collaborative effort between two or more companies. In a joint venture, each participating company contributes resources, expertise, and capital to establish a separate entity with shared ownership and control. The joint venture allows companies to pool their strengths, share risks, and pursue specific projects or objectives together. It is commonly used when entering complex markets or engaging in large-scale initiatives that require a partnership approach.

Setting up a subsidiary company

Establishing a subsidiary company involves careful planning and adherence to legal and regulatory requirements. Here are key considerations when setting up a subsidiary company:

Legal and regulatory considerations

Before setting up a subsidiary company, it is crucial to research and understand the legal and regulatory landscape of the jurisdiction where the subsidiary will operate. Each country may have specific requirements for company registration, permits, licenses, and compliance obligations. Engaging legal counsel with expertise in the target jurisdiction can help navigate these complexities.

Choosing the right jurisdiction and structure

Selecting the appropriate jurisdiction for the subsidiary company is vital. Factors to consider include tax regulations, political stability, market access, legal frameworks, and ease of doing business. The chosen jurisdiction should align with the company’s strategic objectives and provide a favorable business environment.

Additionally, determining the suitable structure for the subsidiary is essential. Options may include a limited liability company (LLC), a corporation, or other legal entities, depending on the jurisdiction’s regulations and the desired level of liability protection.

Capital requirements and funding options

Assessing the capital requirements for the subsidiary company is necessary to ensure sufficient resources are available for operations and growth. Funding options can include injecting capital from the parent company, seeking external investors or partners, or securing loans from financial institutions. It’s important to consider the long-term financial sustainability of the subsidiary.

Compliance and reporting obligations

Subsidiary companies are subject to various compliance and reporting obligations. These may include filing annual financial statements, tax returns, and complying with labor laws and other regulatory requirements. Understanding and fulfilling these obligations is essential to avoid legal issues and maintain good standing in the jurisdiction of operation.

Managing a subsidiary company

Managing a subsidiary company effectively requires careful coordination, communication, and strategic decision-making. Here are some key considerations for successful subsidiary management:

Governance and decision-making processes

Establishing clear governance structures is essential to ensure smooth operations within the subsidiary company. This includes defining roles and responsibilities, establishing reporting lines, and clarifying decision-making authority. By outlining these processes, the subsidiary can operate efficiently while aligning with the overall objectives of the parent company.

Communication and coordination with the parent company

Regular and effective communication between the parent and subsidiary companies is crucial for success. This ensures that strategic goals are aligned, and both entities are aware of each other’s activities. Coordination can involve periodic meetings, shared project management systems, and collaboration platforms to facilitate knowledge sharing and leverage the parent company’s resources and expertise.

Financial management and control mechanisms

Implementing robust financial management systems within the subsidiary is vital. This includes establishing budgeting processes, financial reporting mechanisms, and internal controls to ensure transparency and accountability. Effective financial management enables the subsidiary to monitor its performance, make informed decisions, and comply with financial regulations.

Overcoming challenges in subsidiary management

Managing a subsidiary company can present unique challenges, particularly when operating in different jurisdictions with varying cultural norms and business practices. It is important to proactively address these challenges to foster synergy and collaboration. Strategies may include fostering cross-cultural understanding, promoting open communication, and resolving conflicts promptly and fairly. Encouraging knowledge exchange and sharing best practices between the parent and subsidiary can also help overcome obstacles.

Pros and cons of establishing a subsidiary company

While establishing a subsidiary company offers various benefits, it also presents certain drawbacks. Understanding the pros and cons can help make an informed decision:


  • Risk diversification and asset protection: A subsidiary company provides an additional layer of protection for the parent company’s assets. In the event of financial difficulties or legal issues faced by the subsidiary, the parent company’s assets are generally shielded from being affected.
  • Operational autonomy for subsidiary: A subsidiary company has the freedom to make decisions and operate independently to some extent. This autonomy allows the subsidiary to adapt quickly to local market conditions and tailor its strategies accordingly.
  • Tax optimization and financial flexibility: Establishing a subsidiary in a favorable tax jurisdiction can lead to tax optimization and cost savings. Subsidiaries may also benefit from financial advantages such as better borrowing rates, government incentives, or industry-specific grants.
  • Enhanced brand presence and market share: A subsidiary company can help expand a brand’s presence in new markets or target specific customer segments. This expansion can boost market share, increase brand recognition, and lead to a competitive advantage.


  • Increased complexity and administrative costs: Operating a subsidiary company involves additional administrative and compliance requirements. Companies must allocate resources to manage the subsidiary’s legal and regulatory obligations, which can increase operational complexity and costs.
  • Potential conflicts of interest between parent and subsidiary: Differences in strategic priorities, decision-making, or operational practices may lead to conflicts of interest between the parent and subsidiary. Managing these conflicts effectively requires open communication and a willingness to find mutually beneficial solutions.
  • Compliance with regulations in multiple jurisdictions: Subsidiary companies operating in different jurisdictions must navigate and comply with local regulations and laws. This can involve understanding complex tax codes, labor laws, and reporting requirements, which may vary from the parent company’s home jurisdiction.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a subsidiary company and a branch office?

A subsidiary company is a separate legal entity, while a branch office is an extension of the parent company and does not have its own legal status.

Can a subsidiary company have its own board of directors?

Yes, a subsidiary company can have its own board of directors, although the parent company may have the authority to appoint or influence their selection.

How can a subsidiary company benefit from the parent company’s resources?

A subsidiary company can leverage the parent company’s expertise, financial resources, operational support, and access to networks or distribution channels.

Are there any limitations on the activities a subsidiary company can undertake?

The activities of a subsidiary company may be subject to legal and regulatory restrictions in the jurisdiction it operates in. Compliance with local laws is essential.

Key takeaways

  • Establishing a subsidiary company can provide strategic advantages such as market expansion, risk management, and tax optimization.
  • Thorough research and understanding of legal, regulatory, and financial considerations are vital for successful subsidiary company setup and management.
  • Effective communication, coordination, and governance structures between the parent and subsidiary companies contribute to overall success.
View Article Sources
  1. Final Rule: Financial Statements and Periodic Reports For Related Issuers and Guarantors – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  2. Subsidiary – Cornell Law School
  3. Subsidiary Organs: Overview – United Nations Security Council