The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation History

103 JFK Parkway
Short Hills, New Jersey 07078

Telephone: (973) 921-5500
Fax: (908) 665-5524

Public Company
Incorporated: 1933 as R.G. Dun-Bradstreet Corporation
Employees: 6,600
Sales: $1.3 billion (2002)
Stock Exchanges: New York London Tokyo Geneva Zurich Basel
Ticker Symbol: DNB
NAIC: 511140 Database and Directory Publishers; 523999 Miscellaneous Financial Investment Activities; 561450 Credit Bureaus

Company Perspectives:

D&B has undergone a period of restructuring in recent years, designed to make D&B a smaller, more tightly focused company. A.C. Nielsen, Cognizant, R.H. Donnelley and Moody's Corporation were all spun off to allow each company to pursue focused strategies for its specific business. And in October 2000, D&B launched an ambitious new plan called the Blueprint for Growth--a strategy designed to transform itself into a growth company with an important presence on the Web. We're creating a whole new generation of products and services that give customers exciting opportunities to manage business information more efficiently. We are constantly expanding the size and improving the quality of our global database, which now covers more than 75 million businesses worldwide. And we're working hard to continuously improve the high-quality service that is our hallmark. We're a company poised to meet the new century. But we will always have a fundamental legacy to define us, a legacy that ties us to our past and supports us as we venture into the next millennium.

Key Dates:

Lewis Tappan founds a credit information bureau called the Mercantile Agency.
Another credit information bureau, the Bradstreet Company, is founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, by John Bradstreet, a lawyer and merchant.
Bradstreet moves to New York, placing itself in direct competition with the Mercantile Agency.
The Mercantile Agency is sold to Robert Graham Dun, who changes the company's name to R.G. Dun & Company; the company publishes its first reference book of credit information, the Dun Book.
The Bradstreet Company incorporates under the leadership of Henry Bradstreet, the founder's son.
The firm reorganizes into a holding company called R.G. Dun Corporation, controlling the assets of its newly acquired credit-reporting service, National Credit Office (NCO), and the original R.G. Dun & Company.
R.G. Dun & Company merges with the Bradstreet Company, becoming R.G. Dun-Bradstreet Corporation.
The merged company changes its name to Dun and Bradstreet, Inc.
The company acquires Credit Clearing House, a credit-reporting agency that specializes in the clothing industry.
The company begins operating its own private wire network, linking 79 of its major offices and allowing credit information to be handled more expeditiously.
Dun & Bradstreet acquires R.H. Donnelley Corporation, a company founded in Chicago in 1874 and best known for publishing the Yellow Pages telephone directories.
The company acquires Moody's Investors Service, a provider of financial data for investors on publicly owned corporations through its series of Moody's manuals.
Having acquired some 40 businesses since the launch of its expansion program in 1960, the company changes its name to the Dun & Bradstreet Companies Inc.; the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation is formed to serve as the parent company.
Dun & Bradstreet divides itself into three new publicly traded corporations: Cognizant Corporation, The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, and A.C Nielsen.
Dun & Bradstreet restructures again, spinning off the R.H. Donnelley Corporation.
The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation splits into two companies, spinning off Moody's Investors Service.
Dun & Bradstreet changes its name to D&B as part of a new corporate branding effort.
D&B acquires Hoover's, Inc.

Company History:

The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation (D&B) is the leading provider of business information worldwide, priding itself on its indispensability as a facilitator of business-to-business commerce for 160 years. Derived from a global database of 79 million companies, D&B's integrated array of products and services includes D&B Risk Management Solutions for minimizing credit exposure, D&B Sales & Marketing Solutions for identifying profitable customers, D&B Supply Management Solutions for efficient management of suppliers, and D&B E-Business Solutions for fast, Web-based access to reliable business information. In 2001 the company launched a new branding initiative, officially changing its name to D&B, the already familiar acronym, and creating a new logo along with the tagline, "Decide with Confidence."

Company Origins

Dun & Bradstreet traces its origin to Lewis Tappan, who in 1841 left Arthur Tappan & Company (a New York silk trading firm that he ran with his elder brother) to found a credit information bureau called the Mercantile Agency. Tappan had long been aware of the need for better credit reporting. As the borders of the United States expanded westward, traders were moving beyond the easy view of the East Coast merchants and bankers who kept them supplied and capitalized. Information on the creditworthiness of these far-flung businesses was collected by individual trading houses and banks in a scattershot fashion, and Tappan saw that centralizing the process of collecting information would result in greater efficiency. Accordingly, he took out an advertisement in the New York Commercial Advertiser on July 20, 1841, and opened shop 11 days later on the corner of Hanover and Exchange streets in Manhattan.

The Mercantile Agency operated by gathering information through a network of correspondents and selling it to subscribers. The agents were attorneys, cashiers of banks, merchants, and other competent persons--anyone who might have an impartial familiarity with local merchants through business or civic affairs. Over the years people as famous as U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley, as well as presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, would serve as agents for the company that Tappan founded.

The Mercantile Agency opened branch offices in Boston in 1843 and Philadelphia in 1845. In 1846 Benjamin Douglass, a young New York businessman with connections in the southern cotton trade, joined the firm. When Lewis Tappan retired in 1849, Douglass and Tappan's brother, Arthur, ran it as partners until 1854, when the elder Tappan sold out to Douglass. Then, in 1859, Douglass sold out to Robert Graham Dun, who immediately changed the firm's name to R.G. Dun & Company. That year the company published its first reference book of credit information, the Dun Book.

As the nation grew and commerce boomed in the decades following the Civil War, Dun had to keep up with it by establishing new branch offices. The firm expanded into the South, west to California, and north into Canada. An office in San Francisco opened in 1869. In 1891 there were 126 Dun branch offices. Robert Dun Douglass, who was Benjamin Douglass's son and Robert Graham Dun's nephew, became general manager of the firm in 1896. After his uncle died in 1900, the company operated as a common-law trust with Douglass in charge as executive trustee. He retired as general manager in 1909 and was succeeded by Archibald Ferguson.

R.G. Dun also began to expand overseas at about this time. The firm opened its first office in London in 1857, and added five more foreign offices--in Glasgow, Paris, Melbourne, Mexico City, and Hamburg--by the end of the century. From 1901 to 1928 R.G. Dun opened 41 overseas branches, scattered across Europe, South Africa, and Latin America.

Growth and Acquisitions: 1930s-80s

In 1931 R.G. Dun acquired National Credit Office (NCO), a credit-reporting service. The firm then reorganized into a holding company called R.G. Dun Corporation, which assumed control of the assets of both NCO and the original R.G. Dun & Company. NCO President and former owner Arthur Dare Whiteside became president of the new entity.

In 1933, at the nadir of the Great Depression, R.G. Dun merged with one of its main competitors, the Bradstreet Company. Since the two companies overlapped each other in many activities and resources, an amalgamation at that time made sense. Bradstreet was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849 by John Bradstreet, a lawyer and merchant whose ancestors included Simon Bradstreet, a colonial governor of Massachusetts, and the prominent colonial American poet Anne Bradstreet. A large file of credit information had come into John Bradstreet's possession as he was overseeing the liquidation of an estate, and he decided to enter the same business in which Lewis Tappan had pioneered eight years earlier. In 1855 Bradstreet packed up and moved to New York, where he challenged the Mercantile Agency directly. Two years later the firm started publishing a semiannual reference book that offered more extensive coverage than the early Dun Book.

John Bradstreet died in 1863 and was succeeded by his son, Henry, who ran the firm until it incorporated in 1876 under the name the Bradstreet Company. A group headed by Charles F. Clark then ran the company until 1904, when Clark died and was succeeded by Henry Dunn. Dunn retired in 1927 and gave way to Clark's son, Charles M. Clark. The younger Clark was still chief executive when Bradstreet merged with Dun in 1933. The new company changed its name to R.G. Dun-Bradstreet Corporation and then to Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., in 1939.

Business remained slow for Dun & Bradstreet through the 1930s and during World War II and then picked up again after the war ended. In 1942 the company acquired Credit Clearing House, a credit-reporting agency that specialized in the clothing industry. In 1962 Arthur Dare Whiteside retired and was succeeded by J. Wilson Newman, who headed Dun & Bradstreet as president until 1960 and then as chairman and chief executive until 1968. Under Newman, Dun & Bradstreet embarked on a course of expansion and technological improvement. In 1958 the company began operating its own private wire network, which linked 79 of its major offices. This allowed credit information to be handled more expeditiously.

In 1961 Dun & Bradstreet acquired R.H. Donnelley Corporation. Donnelley, best known for publishing the Yellow Pages telephone directories, was founded in Chicago in 1874 and also published trade magazines. The next year Dun & Bradstreet acquired Official Airline Guides and added it to the Donnelley division. The company also acquired Moody's Investors Service, which provided financial data for investors on publicly owned corporations through its series of Moody's manuals.

In 1966 Dun & Bradstreet acquired Fantus Company, which specialized in area development surveys. In 1968 it bought book publisher Thomas Y. Crowell. When Newman retired that year, he was succeeded by former University of Delaware president John Perkins, who served as chairman for one year.

In 1971 Dun & Bradstreet acquired Corinthian Broadcasting, which owned five CBS television affiliates and publisher Funk & Wagnalls. In 1973 the company changed its name to the Dun & Bradstreet Companies Inc. It had acquired some 40 businesses since J. Wilson Newman inaugurated this expansion in 1960 and had seen its annual sales rise from $81 million in 1960 to $450 million in 1973. In 1973 the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation was formed to become the parent company.

In 1978 Dun & Bradstreet acquired Technical Publishing, a trade and professional magazine publisher. The next year it acquired National CSS, an information-processing technology company. In 1983 it diversified into computer software when it acquired McCormack & Dodge, which published systems software for mainframe computers. The next year it cut back a bit on diversification when it spun off Funk & Wagnalls and sold most of its Corinthian Broadcasting television assets to A.H. Belo. The company, however, acquired Datastream, a British business information company, and the market research firm A.C. Nielsen. Nielsen, famous for its television rating service, was founded in Chicago in 1923 by Arthur C. Nielsen, Sr. Harrington Drake, chief executive officer of Dun & Bradstreet, was a longtime friend of the Nielsen family, and the two companies had been discussing a merger on and off since 1969.

Divestiture and Acquisitions: 1990s

Dun & Bradstreet continued restructuring itself through divestiture and acquisitions from the late 1980s and into the 1990s. It sold Official Airline Guides to Propwix, an affiliate of British Maxwell Communications, in 1988 and Zytron, Petroleum Information, and Neodata in 1990. Also in 1990 the company announced its intention to sell two divisions of Dun & Bradstreet Software: Datastream International, Ltd., and Information Associates, Inc. The company sold Donnelley Marketing, the IMS communications unit, and Carol Write Sales in 1991.

By 1993, however, Dun & Bradstreet began shifting gears and entering a phase of acquisitions. Through the various divisions of Dun & Bradstreet, the company focused on acquiring smaller, primarily information-based companies. For example, it acquired a majority interest in Gartner Group Inc., an international market research firm, on April 8, 1993. Dun & Bradstreet Information Services acquired Solidited, a Swedish company that provided commercial-credit information for Scandinavian businesses, on May 12, 1993. Also in 1993 the company formed HealthCare Information Inc. to conduct research in the healthcare industry, and on February 17, 1994, HealthCare Information acquired Lexecon Health Service Inc.

Acquisitions continued in 1994. A.C. Nielsen acquired two companies: IPSA S.A. (Argentina) and Survey Research Group, Hong Kong. IMS America acquired Emron Inc. and Amfac Chemdata (Australia), and Dun and Bradstreet Information Services purchased Orefro L'Informazione (Italy), S&W (France), and Novinform A.G. (Switzerland) and formed an alliance with Tokyo Shoko Research (Japan). The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation acquired Pilot software, an online software company. Also in 1994 Dun & Bradstreet announced that it would be getting out of the magazine publishing business and in the process ceasing publication of D & B Reports.

On January 9, 1996, Dun & Bradstreet announced plans to divide itself into three new publicly traded corporations: Cognizant Corporation, which consisted of IMS International, the Gartner Group, Nielsen Media Research, Pilot Software, and Erisco; the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, made up of Dun & Bradstreet Information Services, Moody's Investors Service, and R.H. Donnelley; and A.C. Nielsen. The Cognizant Corporation was created to focus on such high-growth business segments as healthcare and media markets. The Dun & Bradstreet Corporation was to continue its historically successful financial information services. A.C. Nielsen was to focus on marketing research in the consumer packaged-goods industry, where it was already the global leader. As part of the reorganization, several Dun & Bradstreet divisions, including Dun & Bradstreet Software Services, Inc. and American Credit Indemnity, were scheduled to be sold.

In 1997 Dun & Bradstreet announced the release of two coding systems designed to simplify the process of making purchases on the Internet. The first was the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS), which employed nine-digit company identification tags. Until then the DUNS system had been used only internally by Dun & Bradstreet. The second release was an Internet database of the Standard Products and Service Code (SPSC). This database provided 11-digit codes that identified product types. With the help of the codes, Internet users could more easily find companies that provided particular products or services. Although the Internet was a new medium for Dun & Bradstreet, its Internet products were in line with its traditional mission of providing information and information services.

Continued Restructuring and a Blueprint for Growth in the 21st Century

Having successfully implemented a major restructuring in 1996, Dun & Bradstreet sought to further streamline its corporate structure in 1998 by spinning off R.H. Donnelley. According to the new structure, the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation would retain its two main financial information businesses, Moody's Investors Service and the Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) operating company, while Donnelley, the top independent seller of yellow pages advertising in the United States, would become a fully independent, publicly traded company. The split was designed to enable both companies to better focus on their core competencies and more accurately allocate resources toward the realization of their strategic and financial objectives. Another benefit of the spinoff was improved financial flexibility for Dun & Bradstreet, as about $450 million of the corporation's existing debt was assumed by Donnelley. Ultimately, with net income of $280.1 million in 1998, the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation achieved its second consecutive year of double-digit earnings growth, surpassing its own financial objectives by year's end.

In 1999, the D&B operating company established strategic alliances to integrate D&B information into business systems and processes. Through new partnerships with such enterprise software companies as SAP AG of Germany, SAS Institute, Siebel Systems, and Oracle Corporation, D&B sought opportunities to embed its data into customers' system software and position itself amid the rising current of e-commerce. Also in 1999, D&B launched a new Internet business,, designed to leverage D&B's worldwide database of 57 million companies for online business-to-business transactions. A subsequent alliance between and VeriSign, Inc., the preeminent provider of Internet trust services around the world, further strengthened D&B's online position by providing its customers with optimum information security on the Web. D&B's strides into e-commerce paid off, as revenue from Internet-related business reached $100 million in 1999, a 150 percent increase from the preceding year. By comparison with 1998, however, 1999 was a disappointing year for the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. While Moody's continued to produce phenomenal results, boasting a fourth consecutive year of double-digit revenue growth, the D&B operating company underperformed, causing the parent company to fall short of its earnings goals.

In 2000, then, the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation split in two again, spinning off Moody's Investors Service as an independent, publicly traded company. It was then incumbent on the D&B operating company to spearhead improved earnings, particularly through the aggressive expansion of its Internet presence. To transform the company and meet its strategic goals for the coming three years--which included a 10 percent increase in earnings per share--D&B created a "Blueprint for Growth" that focused on five major objectives: leveraging the D&B brand as the most trusted source of business information; creating financial flexibility by improving efficiency at all levels of operation, thereby freeing up $100 million for investment in B2B e-commerce and other ventures; enhancing its current business by creating deeper and broader market penetration among its current base of multinational customers, among small businesses, and on the Web; becoming a key player in B2B e-commerce with the aim of deriving 80 percent of its total revenue from Internet-related business by 2004; building a winning culture by honing company objectives, increasing individual and team accountability; and improving corporate leadership.

During 2001, as the Blueprint for Growth came into full swing, the company acquired Harris InfoSource International, Inc., a privately held company noted for its national database of in-depth manufacturer profiles. As a wholly owned subsidiary of Dun & Bradstreet, Harris InfoSource would significantly strengthen D&B's portfolio of sales and marketing products and services. Also that year, toward the goal of better leveraging the Dun & Bradstreet brand, the company officially changed its name to D&B, the already familiar acronym, launching a new logo along with the tagline, "Decide with Confidence." As a result of these and other initiatives, the company achieved earnings per share (EPS) growth of 16.7 percent for the year, well above its stated goal. Further, its revenue from Internet business reached 33 percent, up from 17 percent in 2000.

D&B's performance only improved in 2002, as the company continued to expand the range of its value-added products, investing in signature tools and services including "Global DecisionMaker," "Portfolio Management Solutions," and "Data Integration Toolkit." In 2002, D&B delivered EPS growth of 26 percent, while the company's revenue from Internet business soared to 65 percent. In February 2003, the company further strengthened its complement of products with the $119 million acquisition of Hoover's, a prominent provider of information on private and publicly traded companies through its website, Having increased its worldwide database from 60 to 79 million companies in the course of just two years, D&B's Blueprint for Growth promised to yield gratifying results for the company and its shareholders for the foreseeable future.

Principal Subsidiaries: Hoover's, Inc.; Harris InfoSource International, Inc.

Principal Competitors: Acxiom Corporation; Equifax Inc.; infoUSA Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Abrahams, Paul, "Dun & Bradstreet Opts for Divorce," Financial Times, November 1, 1996, p. 26.
  • Bharadwaj-Chand, Swati, "Dun and Bradstreet Identifies Web As Major Focus Area," Times of India, February 17, 2001.
  • Bowen, Ted Smalley, "Dun & Bradstreet Agrees to Acquire Pilot Software," PC Week, July 25, 1994, pp. 105-06.
  • Byrne, John A., "Why D&B Is Glued to the Ticker: Wall Street Greets a Breakup Plan with Deafening Silence," Business Week, February 19, 1996, pp. 58-59.
  • Doescher, William F., "A Final Word," D & B Reports, March-April 1994, pp. 6-7.
  • Dun & Bradstreet: A Chronology of Progress, New York: Dun and Bradstreet, Inc., 1974.
  • Dun & Bradstreet: The Story of an Idea, New York: Dun and Bradstreet, Inc., 1966.
  • Gilpin, Kenneth N., "New Dun and Bradstreet Split Planned If the I.R.S. Agrees," New York Times, December 19, 1997, p. D2.
  • Greenberg, Ilan, "Dun & Bradstreet Finds Its Strength in Data Management," San Jose Mercury News, August 18, 1999.
  • King, Julia, "D&B Software Users Cheer Sell-Off Plan," Computerworld, January 15, 1996, p. 4.
  • Moeller, Michael, and Jim Kerstetter, "E-Commerce Grows Up with Aid of D&B, Actra," PC Week, March 10, 1997, pp. 1-2.
  • Pine, Michael, "Dun's Do-Over: Two of Dun & Bradstreet's Three Parts Are Worth More Than the Whole," Financial World, July 8, 1996, pp. 44-45.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.61. St. James Press, 2004.