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A promoter is an individual or a family who controls a company. In a listed company, a promoter may or may not have majority shares. But unlike mutual funds or insurance companies who may hold shares without participating in day-to-day management, a promoter has management control.
A promoter has special place in the law – it protects him to some extent from an outsider taking control of the company by buying sufficient number of shares. In India, many financial institutions are known to usually side with the promoter in the Board – giving him further protection from outside takeover.