Can you guess the 5 biggest listed companies in the world?

The SA business environment right now is challenging.  That is putting it lightly.  So I looked globally for inspiration this week.

What are the 5 biggest listed companies in the world?  What lessons can we learn from them?

Here they are (drum roll….)

  1.  Berkshire Hathaway

Hard to describe, but essentially it is the company that Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger built.  It has operating companies, investments and big insurance operations.  The cult of Berkshire is strong but for good reason.  I read any book they recommend and read the annual letter to shareholders as soon as it comes out.  Right now there is a documentary “Becoming Warren Buffett” on DSTV – treat yourself with a break and watch it.

  1.  Amazon

Customer obsession is the number one driving force behind the business that Jeff Bezos has built.  The 15 leadership principles are well worth a read – their culture certainly is producing results.  As South Africans, we could learn a lot about customer service from Amazon, we rank 44 out of 45 countries.  The only country we beat at customer service?  France!

  1. Microsoft

I was also surprised but it turns out that we all need Office software and the costs of switching are too high.  This is a company that prints money, even though their cool factor might not be in the same league as the next two companies.

  1. Alphabet

We know them better as Google, the kings of search and online advertising.  They are making lots of investments in self-driving cars, maps and many more areas.  Interesting to note is that Google allows employees to suggest projects to the CEO.  They either get accepted or rejected quickly.  If accepted, no employees are allocated to it.  It is up to the person who proposed the project to convince people to join the project.  How cool is that?  The developers are best placed to decide what would be a valuable project to work on so let them decide (I got all that from this podcast “Masters of Scale” by the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman.

  1.  Apple

Apple has proved that you can make high margin/high volume products!  The iPhone is the breadwinner for this company and it is currently sitting on a cash pile of $256bn (which is a record).  Apple has got Design Thinking down and it has made all of us students of delighting the customer with great “user experiences”.  UCT recently launched a to help us all learn these important principles.

I hope you have enjoyed this global, good news perspective.  If you are interested in hearing an audio version, download the Rooster app on your phone.  Some former UCT students of mine are developing it and they asked me to do a short weekly audio recording on business news for them.  Full disclaimer – I don’t own shares and am not getting paid – but I want to support them in their entrepreneurial careers.  Read all about Rooster in Cape Town magazine here.


Paul Maughan

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