The Pulse of the Nation

Fortune Magazine has been publishing the Fortune 500 list, an annual compilation of America’s 500 largest companies, since 1955. That was the year Disneyland opened and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were born.

Since 1955, more than 2,000 companies have earned a spot on the list, but in 55 years only three have achieved the number one slot: General Motors, ExxonMobil and Wal-Mart.

While this probably comes as no surprise, 2008 was the worst year in the history of the Fortune 500 for America’s largest companies. From $645 billion in profits in 2007, profits dropped this year to just $98.9 billion—an 84.7% decline!

Every year about this time, Fortune Magazine updates its many loyal readers with its exclusive list of Fortune 500 companies. It not only ranks America’s largest corporations in a 62-page spread but also offers a tremendous amount of information about what’s happening with these organizations.

Of course, the big news story every year is who is #1? This year ExxonMobil’s surge unseated Wal-Mart from the #1 spot. After holding the top spot for six of the past seven years, Wal-Mart plummeted into second place. Of course, I say that tongue-in-cheek as Wal-Mart has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It achieved healthy growth of 7.1% in 2008 as much of its competition struggled or even disappeared. It produced revenues of $405,607,000 (four hundred and five BILLION, six hundred and seven thousand dollars!) To add substance to that figure, consider the fact that Wal-Mart’s revenues surpassed those of the other nine general merchandisers in their category combined. It fact, its top ten competitors generated revenues of $205 billion compared to Wal-Mart’s $405 billion! Look for them to regain that #1 position next year.

Here are some other interesting tidbits which reflect the current pulse of our nation.

  • Three of the top four Fortune 500 companies this year were oil companies! Duh!
  • Eleven of the top 25 largest corporate losses in list history took place last year.
  • Fifteen women ran Fortune 500 companies in 2008, an all-time high.
  • The top money loser this year was AIG (American International Group) which suffered losses of $99 billion! Yes, ninety-nine billion … making AIG Fortune 500’s biggest moneypit of all time!
  • Southwest placed fourth in revenues in the airlines category. However, revenues are impacted greatly by the size of the organization and reflect the number of dollars earned. Southwest did, however, place first in profits with $178 million—the only airline that did not report a loss.
  • Fortune’s best recession investment makes a lot of sense when you consider the current state of the economy. Of the 24 Fortune 500 companies that saw their stock rise last year, Dollar Tree led the pack with a 61% return, making them this year’s best recession investment. Not surprisingly, Family Dollar came in second with a 39% return. I guess we know where Americans are shopping during tough times.
  • Another record was broken this year as there was an 84.7% drop in the 500’s 2008 profits!
  • Here’s another interesting fact which reflects the country’s current state of mind. During a recession, car repairs ramp up as consumers put off new car purchases. AutoZone, which sells auto parts and accessories, rewarded investors with the highest return on equity of any 500 company last year: 279%!
  • Interesting note: In the category of beverages, Coca-Cola ranked first, Coca-Cola Enterprises ranked second and Pepsi Bottling ranked third. However, in the category of food consumer products, PepsiCo ranked first thanks to brand contributions from Fritos, Lays, Ruffles, Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, Cracker Jacks, Rold Gold, Quaker, Tropicana, and Gatorade.
  • Harvard and the University of Wisconsin both boast 11 CEO alums on this year’s Fortune 500 list.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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