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In the case of Company A, as well as in the case of product B, there were companies and businessmen who were eager to trade with XY.

In the use of that vs who, I usually stick to the subject rule (who = animate, that = inanimate). But in this case, the subject is both companies and businessmen (marked italic), rendering the grammatical subject both inanimate and animate. Does either of the pronouns take precedence over the other?

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  • there were companies and businessmen "who" were eager to trade with XY OR there were businessmen and companies "that" were eager to trade with XY.
    – Misti
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 17:13
  • In the case of Company A, as well as in the case of product B, there were companies and businessmen eager to trade with XY. (Though I'm not sure of the logic involved in the statement, with or without whiz-deletion). Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 23:47

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I am not quite sure if you are able to put company in the inamate or animate category and neither if this adequate to choose between who and that.

In this case I would assume to take it as animate (and "humanoid"):

The company is able to trade, to bargain etc. Inanimate assumes it would not be able to do that. Therefore company refers to the management or the representative(s) in this case.

Categorizing as humanoid and in-humanoid or the ability to take decisions ("conscious mind") as a guideline is preferable. E.g. animals you can use both who and that but they are clearly animated. If you see them having a conscious mind as humans (sometimes) have, is to be discussed in a philosophical way.

He avoided the dog who bites. He did catch the fish that looked injured.

He avoided the dog that bites. He did catch the fish who looked injured.

Besides on "quick and dirty tips" is a post with a hint, that some authors in the past used "that" even with humans as reference and a quote of American Heritage Dictionary stating

It is entirely acceptable to write either the man that wanted to talk to you, or the man who wanted to talk to you.

so it is not really clear at all.

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  • Thank you Dan for your fast answer, I appreciate it! I thought about it and decided to go with that. In my reasoning, I treat the businessmen as a group of people. Although it consists of people, when talking (or thinking) about a group, it sounds better to me to use that instead of who. But I see it's really a question of opinion and I leave that to the editor… Thank you again for your answer.
    – Tom
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 16:41

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