10 iconic US companies that have left America

Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com

The 'Made in America' exodus

Washingtonians enjoyed free Good Humor treats as part of the brand's Welcome to Joyhood campaign in Moynihan Plaza in Washington D.C.
William B. Plowman | Invision for Good Humor | AP

America has lost the right to call a lot of iconic companies its own over the past several years.

Whether through overseas acquisitions or inversion deals, in which a U.S. company reincorporates overseas following the purchase of a foreign company, names many people grew up with have flown the coop. But that could be changing.

Last week Pfizer agreed to terminate its $160 billion acquisition of Botox maker Allergan one day after the U.S. Treasury unveiled new rules meant to curtail inversions. (The rules prevent stock accumulated through a foreign company's U.S. deals in the last three years to count toward the book value needed to meet the inversion threshold, according to Reuters.) And those changes may impact other pending inversion deals, such as Johnson Controls' $16.5 billion merger with Ireland's Tyco International and IHS's $13 billion takeover of London's Markit.

When it comes to corporate expatriates, the cost isn't in jobs so much as it is lost tax revenue. But there's also a loss of business bragging rights for the United States. Here are 10 major companies that have moved their headquarters offshore.

— By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted on 21 April 2016

Burger King

Exterior pictures of both Tim Hortons and Burger King(in the same frame) located across the street from one another on the Queensway in Etobicoke.
Vince Talotta | Toronto Star | Getty Images

The burger chain's 2014 move to Canada followed its acquisition of Tim Horton's (which it operates as an independent brand). By moving its global headquarters to the Great White North, though, it was able to avoid as much as $275 million in taxes, said some reports at the time.

The company, facing a backlash, tried to sooth consumers, saying, "The decision to create a new global [quick service restaurant] leader with Tim Hortons is not tax-driven — it's about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes. We're proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve."


A bartender pours a glass of Budweiser beer at a bar in Brussels, Belgium.
Jock Fistick | Bloomberg | Getty Images

You may not get much more American than a cold Bud, but in 2008 the company was bought out by InBev, the makers of Stella Artois and Bass for $52 billion. The newly formed company still bases its North American headquarters out of Bud's hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, but it calls Belgium its corporate home.

It's not the only big beer company that's no longer based here. Coors is owned by Canada's Molson, and Miller Brewing was bought by South African Breweries in 1999.


A pedestrian walks past the entrance to medical device manufacturer Covidien Plc's head office in Dublin, Ireland.
Aidan Crawley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Founded in Minneapolis in 1949, this Fortune 500 company grew to be a worldwide medical device maker. But in 2014 it shifted its global headquarters address to Ireland when it bought Covidien for $42.9 billion.

Like Burger King, the inversion move was meant to help it cut its tax bill in the United States, though the company's headquarters and major operations are still run from its U.S. offices. Ireland's corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent, compared with the top marginal rate of 39.6 percent in the United States, according to KPMG.


Purina and Felix pet food brands are displayed at the headquarters of the world's biggest food company, Nestle, in Vevey, Switzerland.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

The pet food company founded in 1894 in St. Louis merged in 2001 with food-giant Nestlé, which moved its world headquarters to Veve, Switzerland. Today it's known as Nestlé Purina PetCare, and it's the second-largest pet food company in the world and the largest in America, with 2014 global revenues of roughly $11.9 billion. Some of its brands include Purina Dog Chow, Friskies and Purina ONE.

Its North American operations are run out of St. Louis.


Trevor Adeline | Getty Images

The New Orleans construction company might not be as famous as some companies on this list, but it's notable because it was the first company to take advantage of inversion. In 1982, after accumulating a big profit in a Panamanian subsidiary, the company switched its headquarters to the Panamanian holding company — and made the U.S. operations a subsidiary. The IRS challenged the move, but courts ruled it was legal in 1987.

Seagate Technology

A Seagate Technology Plc GoFlex Desk hard drive.
Tonay Avelar | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The well-regarded hard-drive manufacturer, which got its start in Cupertino, California, officially moved its global headquarters to Ireland in 2010. That was actually the second move for Seagate, which went private for a period in 2000, when the new owners reincorporated it in the Cayman Islands. (Seagate again began public trading in late 2002.)

Good Humor

Washingtonians enjoyed free Good Humor treats as part of the brand's Welcome to Joyhood campaign in Moynihan Plaza in Washington D.C.
William B. Plowman | Invision for Good Humor | AP

Nothing may be more American than a Good Humor ice-cream bar, but the frozen confection company, founded in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1923, was purchased in 1961 by U.K.'s Unilever. The brand used to be well known for its ice cream on a stick and its iconic ice-cream trucks that are part of American pop culture. The fleet was sold in 1978, but the company continued to distribute its products through grocery stores and independent street vendors.

It currently operates as part of Unilever United States, which also oversees Ben & Jerry's, Breyers, Magnum, Klondike, and several companies that have nothing to do with ice cream.


Employees work on the assembly of domestic washing machines on the production line at the Electrolux AB factory in Olawa, Poland.
Bartek Sadowski | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Founded as Guardian Frigerator in 1916, the inventor of electric refrigerators was soon sold to General Motors, which gave the company its iconic name. In 1979 another American company — Consolidated Industries — bought Frigidaire, keeping it U.S.-based. But in 1986 Sweden's AB Electrolux took control, and the iconic American company's global headquarters moved overseas.


A clinical technician holds a syringe and a vial of Allergan Botox, produced by Allergan.
Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Before it was at the center of the Pfizer controversy, Actavis/Allergan was just another pharma giant who took advantage of inversion. The maker of Botox and other drugs transferred its global headquarters from New Jersey to Dublin in 2013. In its last 10-Q filing with the SEC, it reported nine-month revenues (through Sept. 30, 2015) of nearly $10.9 billion.

Lucky Strike

A man selects a Lucky Strike cigarette from a packet in Hornchurch, U.K.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Once the iconic tobacco company in the United States, Lucky Strike fell out of favor in the mid-20th century. In 1994, British-American Tobacco bought the company and its subsidiaries, moving control to England from North Carolina.

While it's overshadowed today by other tobacco brands, Lucky Strike cigarettes have a cult following from longtime users and a new generation of smokers, who see the brand used in television shows, like "Mad Men." The brand is also popular in Europe. In France, BAT officials say, Lucky Strike is the fastest-growing brand on the market.