GmbH is a business extension primarily known for its use in Germany. Like most all countries, Germany has two distinct segregations for companies: publicly traded and privately held. The acronym 'GmbH' is used for the designation of certain private entities and is written after a company’s name. The letters stand for Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung which translated literally, means a 'company with limited liability.'
Limited Liability in Germany
Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung and the concept of limited liability has allowed businesses to operate as private entities with limited obligations throughout history. The concept of limited liability allows a private company to structure its business so that the owners are not personally liable for debts. Furthermore, shareholders are not liable either and only have their original investment at risk.
GmbH companies can be owned by various entities including individuals, public companies, or partners. They are comparable to limited liability corporations (LLC) in the United States.
In Germany, owners must take appropriate legal steps to register their business as a GmbH. As such, many companies work with a third-party legal counsel for support. Basic steps for registration include the following:
- Create formal documentation discussing the business and its purpose
- Choose a name that is based on either the business or its executives
- Appoint executives, members, and a supervisory board as required
- GmbH companies have a minimum capital requirement of €25,000 with €12,500 required for registration
- Register the company with the Commercial Register through a local court
Some of the most notable GmbH companies in Germany include the following:
- Behr GmbH & Co. KG: Behr is an industrial supplier
- Carl Walther GmbH: Industrial company in the defense and firearms sector
- Mahle GmbH: Industrial supplier of automotive parts
Public Companies in Germany
German companies that are publicly traded are designated as such by the letters 'AG' after the company name. 'AG' is an abbreviation for the German word Aktiengesellschaft, which literally translates to 'stock corporation' or 'shares corporation' in English. AG companies trade publicly on stock exchanges with the majority of companies trading on the DAX.
Some of the largest German AG corporations include its automotive manufacturers:
- Volkswagen AG
- Daimler AG
- BMW AG
Across the globe many countries use their own unique company extensions for incorporation.
There are a few other countries who also use GmbH as well as some variations. Austria uses GesmbH as well as GmbH, both with the same meaning. Switzerland also uses the GmbH designation. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland all have their own legal provisions for the GmbH designation in their country.
Germany also allows for a GmbH & Co. KG designation, a mini-GmbH, and a gGmbH.
- GmbH & Co. KG: A combination of GmbH and KG
- Mini-GmbH: A variation of GmbH with a lower capital requirement
- gGmbH: A non-profit GmbH
Overall, the laws of a country determine which types of companies are legally recognized within the country's borders. One of the most commonly used acronyms worldwide is 'PLC', which is used throughout the United Kingdom to indicate a Public Limited Company, or a company that is publicly traded with owners having limited liability. Throughout the world, 'S.A.' is often used to indicate a privately held company, though its exact meaning varies depending on the country in which the company is registered. The words translate broadly as 'anonymous society' in English.