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The power shifts revealed by the new Fortune Global 500

Aug 01, 2008 Business Daily, Strategy

The 2007 Fortune Global 500:

1. Wal-Mart Stores
2. Exxon Mobil
3. Royal Dutch Shell
4. BP
5. Toyota Motor
6. Chevron
7. ING Group
8. Total
9. General Motors
10. ConocoPhillips

Fortune (July 21, 2008)

What’s new in Fortune‘s Global 500 List? Well, 6 of the top 10 corporations by revenue are oil companies, so no change there – the world’s love affair with oil continues apace. And 2 more are car makers, so only 2 out of the top 10 have nothing to do with the automobile!

Wal-Mart stays on top in number 1 place, with a mind-boggling US$ 379 billion in turnover. Even more eye-popping is the fact that this company now employs 2 million people – the same number of people that are in formal paid employment in the whole of Kenya! Wal-Mart has many critics, but how badly do we in Kenya need exactly such a large-scale employer?

The ING Group of the Netherlands, a banking and financial services giant, comes rocketing into the Global Top 10 this year. It displaces the likes of Citigroup, HSBC and BNP Paribas. Barclays, Kenya’s largest bank by assets, only makes 70th place in the global reckoning these days.

Another interesting development: Toyota has jumped ahead of General Motors for the first time ever. GM is skidding down, barely staying in the top ten (from fifth last year) and having lost the most money of any global company last year. Yet it is ending a 77-year run as the world’s leading car-maker. Toyota’s famed production system seems destined to give it the top spot in years to come.

Look lower down the Global 500 list, and a major power shift becomes apparent. There are still 153 American businesses in the top 500, but that is the lowest number ever. This year’s list contains 29 Chinese and 7 Indian companies – and even 5 Mexican ones. Is China’s 29 companies a lot? Well, it’s more than Italy, Spain and Australia combined! China’s petroleum and chemical giant Sinopec is the highest emerging-market company at no. 16. And India’s Tata Steel takes the honour of achieving the highest revenue increase on the list – 353% after acquiring the Anglo-Dutch steel giant Corus.

Missing from the list are several famous names of yesterday. ABN Amro, Alcan, Electrolux, Nike, Sara Lee and Anheuser-Busch have all fallen off the bottom. Other famous names managed to make huge losses: GM, Sprint-Nextel, Merrill Lynch, Ford, Motorola and Alcatel-Lucent amongst them. Microsoft, once the world’s leader by market capitalisation, these days doesn’t make the Top 100 – but is still generating handsome returns.

More turmoil looks set to follow. The world is spiralling into recession, caused mainly by the ending of America’s consumption boom. It will be very interesting to see how many more American companies leave the Global 500 list next year, and how many more emerging-market corporations join it. Any bets on when a Kenyan company joins this exclusive club? Given our continuing penchant for amateurishness and shady deals, I wonder whether that will happen in my lifetime.

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