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Billionaire Revealed: The Biggest Company You’ve Never Heard Of

Daily Ticker

He's one of the 100 richest people in the world and nobody knew, until now.

Richard Cohen (known as Rick) is worth $11.2 billion, according to Bloomberg Billionaires. Cohen is the chairman, CEO and sole owner of C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. -- the world's largest grocery wholesaler. He's been living a quiet life in Keene, New Hampshire, where C&S is based. So quiet that even the Keene Chamber of Commerce overlooked C&S as one of the town's largest employers.

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“We’re the biggest company no one has ever heard of,” company spokesman Bryan T. Granger told Bloomberg.

C&S was created in 1918 by Cohen's grandfather. At the time it was just a small brick warehouse with three employees that made grocery deliveries to stores around Worcester, Massachusetts. By the time Cohen's father Lester took over the company in 1955, C&S had moved to a 35,000 square foot warehouse. In the 1970's, "Rick" joined the business and the company moved to Brattleboro, Vermont -- sales skyrocketed, reaching $14 million in 1974. According to the C&S website, annual sales reached $1 billion by 1991.

According to Bloomberg, the company had sales of $21.7 billion last year, distributing more than 95,000 products to 4,000 supermarkets from Maine to Hawaii.

Matt Miller, editor of Bloomberg Billionaires, tells The Daily Ticker: "[Cohen] has lots and lots of customers. And he delivers all of his goods in unmarked trucks, so that's how he stays secretive. C&S... does not have its branded trucks as other companies, like Sysco (SYY), its competitor, would so he's able to stay under the radar."

“I tried to put our name on the trucks and he didn’t want any part of it,” said Edward Albertian, a former C&S president, to Bloomberg. “He wanted to continue to be stealth and operate in this little, dinky Keene, New Hampshire, marketplace.”

The secret to Cohen's success has been his laser-focus on efficiency, a key in an industry famous for small profit margins. He even pays his employees extra to avoid mistakes on the job. Thomas DeLong at Harvard Business School consults with Cohen and wrote a case study on the company in 2003. He says of Cohen: "I’m not sure I’ve met anyone as smart, analytic and quantitatively driven as Rick.”

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The Daily Ticker's Lauren Lyster asked Miller why it pays to be a secret billionaire. "There's a lot of advantageous reasons to stay under the radar," says Miller. "Taxes is one. Not wanting to be solicited for a lot of philanthropic things and to be able to give anonymously. To live a life that's frankly a little bit less flamboyant or you know flashy or in the limelight."

So where does an unassuming billionaire put up his feet at the end of the day? Miller says Cohen lives with his family in a modest Keene neighborhood -- though it is the most expensive home in town, valued at about $1.5 million.

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