Subsidiary vs. Sister Company: What's the Difference?

Many people incorrectly use the words "subsidiary" and "sister company" interchangeably, when these two terms have entirely separate meanings. Simply put, a subsidiary refers to a corporation that a parent company either fully owns or holds a controlling interest in. Conversely, sister companies refer to subsidiaries that are related solely by virtue of the fact that they are owned by the same parent company.

Key Takeaways

  • The difference between a subsidiary and a sister company lies in their relationship to the parent company and to each other.
  • By definition, parent companies own one or more separate corporations, known as subsidiaries.
  • Sister companies are subsidiaries that are related because they're owned by the same parent company.


A subsidiary may either be a preexisting corporation that a parent company acquires, or it may be an entity that a parent company creates anew, in order to broaden its consumer base. Sometimes referred to as daughter companies, subsidiaries function as independent legal entities, rather than as divisions of a parent company. Interestingly, it is theoretically possible for a subsidiary company to control its own subsidiary or sets of subsidiary companies.

Parent companies may file a consolidated tax return, which can radically simplify the corporate tax calculations for both the parent company and its subsidiaries. Furthermore, parent companies enjoy the ability to offset gains and losses between subsidiaries in an effort to lower their overall taxable revenue.

Sister Company

Sister companies are subsidiaries that are related to one another by virtue of the fact that they share a common parent entity. Each sister company operates independently from the others, and in most cases, they produce unrelated product lines.

In rarer cases, sister companies are direct rivals who operate in the same space. In such situations, after becoming sisters, the parent company often imposes separate branding strategies in a concerted effort to distinguish sister companies. This helps each sister reach distinct markets, thus boosting their individual chances for success.

There are exceptions to this rule, however, when sister companies join forces. This may entail consolidating marketing desks or offering one other special pricing on their respective inventories. For example, a fabric manufacturer may work with a furniture retailer to jointly produce and market a line of upholstered goods.

Sister companies with common target markets may reduce costs by sharing the same vendors and suppliers in order to snag cheaper rates.

Blurring the Lines

As a company grows into a conglomerate, the divisions between its subsidiaries and its sister companies may grow fuzzy. For example, while multimedia giant Viacom Inc. counts Viacom Media Networks as a subsidiary, Viacom Media Networks’ underlying array of cable channels, including Nickelodeon, BET, and Spike, are considered sister companies. By owning these channels, advertising packages can be purchased more cheaply and efficiently.

Gap stores are well-known to consumers, but Gap Inc. is actually the parent company of Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, Intermix, and several other familiar retail chains. In effect, each of these is a sister company that occupies its own market niche.

What Qualifies as a Subsidiary?

A subsidiary is a wholly owned company or one that is majority controlled by a parent or holding company.

What are Two Subsidiaries Owned by the Same Parent Company Called?

Two or more subsidiary companies owned by the same parent company or entity are called sister companied.

Can a Company Have More than One Parent Companies?

Yes, The subsidiary is the company that is owned by the parent. The subsidiary can have more than one parent company.

The Bottom Line

Subsidiaries and sister companies are two separate concepts. While a subsidiary may be owned in part or wholly by a parent company, a sister company will be an affiliate of a parent that owns two or more companies under the same corporate umbrella.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Viacom Inc. "2018 Annual Report," Pages 1-2.

  2. Gap Inc. "2018 Annual Report," Pages 1-2.

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.