If I want to say that a holding company owns and operates a number of oil-processing plants, all interlinked in the business sense but spread across different locations, what words/phrases could I use? In Russian, we use the word complex, like complex of oil-processing plants, but in English complex seem to imply the presence of its elements at a single location or their physical connection (complex of roads), but not their connection in the sense of product streams.

Am I right that "complex of plants" or even "complex of enterprises" (as one Russian dictionary suggests) will sound and look strange to a native speaker?

I looked for synonyms and found "system, network". Are these O.K. and what other words/phrases could be used to the same effect?

"According to the plan, the Holding's network/system of oil processing plants will process some 8 mn tonnes of crude next year."

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    As a side note, to a US reader, "8 mn" isn't immediately clear. It's probably better to write it as either "8M" (SI-style) or "8 million". – chrylis -on strike- Dec 1 '13 at 4:57
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    @chrylis And as long as we're on that subject - if you're addressing a general US audience (not people in the industry), you should probably express the value in 'barrels' (bbl), which is the usual unit in the news for oil. Most Americans don't know the word tonne or the difference between the short ton, long ton and metric ton. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 1 '13 at 15:56
  • In American English, in professional jargon we might say interconnected. That doesn't require them to be physically linked. – Giambattista Dec 1 '13 at 19:56
  • @StoneyB The American audience might have to translate "tonne", but (at least among the industrial people I know) would immediately identify it. The "8 mn" would take a bit more. (And the scientist part of me says to just use "8 Tg"...) – chrylis -on strike- Dec 2 '13 at 6:13

I have a client, as a matter of fact, who operates a couple of dozen oil processing plants. (It's vegetable oil, not petroleum, but that's much of a muchness.) When they refer to the enterprise as a whole they call it a system.

In their case, however, it actually is a system, integrated both horizontally and vertically. All the activities of all the facilities--purchase of raw oilseed, board hedging, crushing, refining, packaging, sales, interstate and international transport, marketing, R&D, personnel, financing--are closely coordinated to align local capabilities and market bases with national and global markets.

This is a comparatively recent development; until ten or fifteen years ago centralization was confined to a handful of financial functions, and each plant was operationally responsible for its own inputs and outputs, purchases and sales and transport, even if its primary supplier or customer was another plant owned by the same corporation. At that time the enterprise might have been better described as a network of related but more or less autonomous production facilities and economic divisions.

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    It's also worth noting that from the business perspective, the collection might also be referred to as holdings, but this emphasizes the business-asset aspect of the factories rather than the active task-accomplishing aspect. – chrylis -on strike- Dec 1 '13 at 4:45
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    @chrylis Indeed; and I'd guess that the plants themselves and other capital assets are probably of less value to the enterprise than the people and the 'system'. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 1 '13 at 4:53
  • Thank you, StoneyB! So I guess despite the existence of the phrase "military-industrial complex", the word complex is not appropriate. There's either system or network. I'm curious what board hedging is. (0: – CowperKettle Dec 1 '13 at 7:10
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    @CopperKettle Eisenhower's 'military-industrial complex' was talking about informal relationships. Sorry about board hedging - it's industry jargon for protecting your margins on local contracts for physical commodities with offsetting transactions on the national futures market, the Chicago Board of Trade. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 1 '13 at 12:01
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    @CopperKettle complex in this sense can mean either physically connected in a very real sense, or it can mean associated or an industry more abstractly. That's not limited to Military-Industrial Complex; We've also been know to use the term Prison-Industrial Complex in the US. That just means it's a large, interconnected system with many dependent parts. – Giambattista Dec 1 '13 at 20:00

I wasn't quite clear what you meant by "interlinked in the business sense", but if they are merely owned by the same holding company, but you don't want to imply anything about how well-integrated (or not) the different businesses owned by that holding company might be, I would just drop the world entirely:

According to the plan, the Holding's oil processing plants will process some 8 mn tonnes of crude next year.

"Network" to me suggests that they are integrated in some sense.

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