At the recent Researchers in Fundraising conference, Chris Murphy of Ravensbourne Research spoke about understanding company accounts. He was as informative as ever, but took me aback somewhat when he said that it was not possible to be sure that the listed shareholders of private companies were really the owners of the shares. They could be nominal shareholders, with someone else being the actual owner.
As George Overton pointed out, the listed shareholder(s) would at least know the real owners, so should be useful contacts. However, it is disconcerting to hear something like that.
I checked with Philip Beresford, who compiles the Sunday Times Rich List, and he reckons that in 99.99% of cases it is obvious that the person is real owner, and he suggests that we should not worry about this possibility.
Still, it makes you wonder