The latest Fortune 500 listings of the fastest growing, most profitable, biggest and so on American companies is out. What’s striking is that whilst business books telling us all about how the future is in the online world, the online world gets only a brief look in in these lists.
Take the 20 fastest growing firms for example:
United Parcel Service
Community Health Systems
United States Steel
This is a list dominated by traditional business areas, even though it is a list of fastest growing rather than biggest or most profitable (though those too paint a similar picture). eBay is an online business, and a couple of the others do some significant online business, but overwhelmingly this is a list of pre-internet areas of business: steel, food, energy, medicine and so on.
That’s not to say the internet doesn’t matter to those other firms. Good use of the internet helps them do their business better and make more money. But for all the bulging shelves in airport bookshops about how the future of business is online, digital and different, the reality is rather different.
We often here about how big Facebook is, but not how poor it is. As I wrote previously:
It’s become almost a cliché to illustrate the reach of social media by comparing Facebook’s number of active users with the population of different countries. The comparison certainly looks striking. Facebook has “more than 200 million active users”. If it were a country would make it the fifth biggest in the world, ahead of Brazil and behind Indonesia.
But look at finances and the story is very different. Facebook doesn’t publish revenue figures, but for 2008 it looks to have been somewhere in the range $265-$350 million. Looking at the IMF’s figures for GDP in 2008, that would put Facebook in as the 177th richest country. Given that the IMF only has figures for 179 countries, that’s not quite as low as you can be – but very close.
Only Tonga, Sao Tome and Principe and Kiribati come in lower.
The tools for success may be different, but the biggest and fastest growing companies in Fortune’s lists still primarily deal in very traditional areas.