Private businesses can be owned by individuals or small groups of partners. Special hybrid forms of organisation, such as LLCs, can often have a large number of individual and institutional owners. Corporations are owned jointly by their stockholders, which can number in the thousands. Finding out who owns a particular business depends on the type of business that you are looking into, and the state in which the business is registered.
Call the Company
The first, and most straightforward, method to try when searching for a private business's owner is to simply call the organisation. Be upfront with whoever picks up the phone --- likely a receptionist --- and tell him exactly why you are looking for the information. If your purpose is legal and ethical, you will very likely receive a straightforward answer right away, or you will be asked to leave your information so the owner can contact you.
Read Past News
If you run into trouble contacting the business directly, browse past news articles about the company online. News reports often include statements from company owners, or make references to the owners by name. Google and Yahoo! both offer news-search services for archived online news releases.
Contact a State Governing Authority
The department responsible for registering the specific type of business you are looking into in your state will carry public information about all businesses registered under their authority. Different states assign different departments to different business types. Start by contacting your Secretary of State's office. If the Secretary of State does not handle registration for the type of business you are looking up, a representative will be able to direct you to the proper agency. Other agencies often responsible for business registrations include the Department of Revenue, the Department of Commerce or the Corporations Division of the state.
Search the EDGAR Database
Calling a public corporation or searching news releases is unlikely to provide you a list of the large number of stockholders in the company. To find the owners of a publicly-traded corporation, look up the company in the Security and Exchange Commission's EDGAR database. EDGAR contains copies of all filings that corporations make to the SEC. Locate Statement DEF-14A for the company in question to find a list of all the company managers, members of the board and institutional investors with an ownership stake in the company. EDGAR cannot provide you with a list of individual, non-affiliated stockholders, because this list changes on a daily basis.