Going public is commonly thought of as the endgame for most companies.
But many of the world's biggest and most influential businesses have gone through great lengths and endured great criticism to go the opposite rout - to stay private.
It's a tactic that has certainly been successful for many, with several private U.S. companies raking in hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue without the regulatory and investor scrutiny associated with being a public company.
Private companies are more common than you might think. Non-public companies make up roughly 95 percent of the U.S. economy, according to some private market analysts.
One of the most talked-about private companies is Facebook, run by wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg. But as far as private companies stack up, the social networking site's $1.8 billion revenue in 2010, and its reportedly $4 billion in revenue for 2011, are small change. Groupon, another infamous private company before it's recent initial public offering, is a similar story. Its annual revenues for 2010 were $320 million - a drop in the bucket compared to larger private players.
So who are the biggest private powerhouses? Private market analysts at PrivCo have assembled a ranking of the country's most lucrative private companies - ranked according to estimates of 2010 revenue. The list is being presented for the first time on CNBC.com.
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