The Short Lives of Multinationals

My San Francisco friend Michael Phillips advised me today by email that he is telling his colleagues to worry less about big powerful multinationals and more about despots of rogue states. His reasoning is that dictators like Mao, Stalin, Castro, Chavez, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Jong-il are more durable than the big corporations.

To make his point, he refers back to a list he says he was the first to post on the Internet, the top 100 global companies in 1960. He compares that list to the top global companies in 2008.

Only eleven companies are on both lists, he says. Another only has the same name (AT&T is not the same continuous company) and two of the eleven he says are about to collapse (Ford, GM). Four from the 2008 list are already out of business (Citigroup, Bank of Scotland, Merrill Lynch and Volkswagen).

So, says Mike, we have more to fear from dictators with the power to use weapons that with proliferation are becoming increasingly dangerous.

Of the top hundred global companies today, among these ferocious demonic monsters, only eleven will still exist when today's 20 year-olds are retiring. Big global corporations are best compared to orchids, delicate hot house plants. They come and go, mostly go.

My takeaway from this comparison is that multinationals are as mortal as we are. This opens up possibilities for urging their executives to join more aggressively to join in the causes of nonproliferation, conflict resolution and steps toward a more sustainable world. War is not good for business that is not in the business of war.