Some corporations have become so powerful that new words such as corporatocracy or corporatism have entered the English language. There is hardly a place left on the planet where people are not customers, or even in the service of these powerful companies. As you’ll know from our other shows, after “ok,” the word “Coca-Cola” is one of the most recognizable words in the world, while the richest man on the planet, Bill Gates, is thought to have a face as well-known as Jesus Christ or Adolf Hitler. Without even knowing it, many of us in one day might have eaten a product owned by Nestle, watched a TV program on a channel owned by Disney, or even chatted with a friend online who at one time worked at McDonalds.
First of all, we should point out that we won’t make a top ten list, but rather choose the largest businesses based on how interesting they are. For instance, Chinese utilities corporations are huge because of the fact China has the world’s largest population. They aren’t, however, recognizable to many people outside of China. Today we’ll stick with the entities that most of you have had some experience with.
One of those is Apple, a company so large that we once compared it to a small country. If you watched that show, you’ll know that in 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack formed Apple. You’ll also know its 100,000 plus employees globally is more than the population of a small city, and that its 215 billion dollar revenue for 2016 is much more than the GDPs of around 75 percent of the world’s 195 countries. Apple’s best-selling product is the iPhone, and in 2016 the company celebrated the sale of its one billionth phone. In fact, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are the best-selling smartphones of all time. It’s thought Apple sold about 220 million of them. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported that Apple became the first company to be worth 800 billion dollars. Perhaps the third founder when Apple started-up, Ronald Wayne, might now rue the day he sold his share in the company for 800 bucks. His stake these days would be worth in the region of 75.5 billion dollars. Wayne was much older than the other co-founders and has said it was hard to keep up with them. In an interview he once said, “If I had stayed with Apple I probably would have wound up the richest man in the cemetery.”
Let’s stay with tech for the time-being. In the top ten tech companies, in terms of yearly revenue, you’ll find Amazon; Google’s parent company, Alphabet; Korean electronics firm Samsung; and the Windows operating system creator, Microsoft. You won’t find Facebook, even though it is fast becoming one of the things we spend the most time looking at each day. Facebook’s revenue for 2016 was just over 26.5 billion dollars, an amount quite a lot less than the tech companies we just mentioned. It is, however, growing at an astonishing rate and was only just recently given a value of 500 billion dollars. As Wall Street sees such tech giants ruling the future, it’s expected it won’t be long until they start breaking the one trillion dollar milestone. The social media kingpin announced this year it had over 2 billion monthly active logged-in users, compared with YouTube’s 1.5 million. Google.com and YouTube are listed above Facebook though, in terms of page views. Facebook has done this in quite a short amount of time, and has been said to have the power to change how we think, what we buy, and even affect our general day-to-day emotions. Its 2 billion community is bigger than any country on Earth, and a sizeable proportion of the world’s 7.5 billion people. If it’s not the biggest money spinner, it just might be the most powerful tech company in the world in terms of how it affects our lives.
Still, 5.5 billion people don’t use Facebook, or at least aren’t active monthly users. According to the United Nations latest report, about 3.8 billion people in the world have internet, or around 51 percent. In North America, that number might be 88 percent, and Europe 79 percent, but in Asia and Africa, it’s only 46 and 31 percent respectively. All those folks not online are not out of the grasp of large corporations, though. The next two mega-corporations are almost impossible not to be a customer of, never mind where you live.
One of those companies is the Dutch-British consumer goods company Unilever, said to be the largest consumer goods company in the world today. It has over 400 brands, many of which you probably buy. Some of the those brands are Dove and Lux personal care products, Lipton’s tea, and names such as Skippy, Hellman’s, Comfort, Flora, Rexona, Surf, Vaseline, Ponds, Sunsilk, Clear and Signal. According to its own website, Unilever products are used by more than 2.5 billion people on any given day in 190 countries. Its revenue for 2016 was around 63 billion 190 dollars. Forbes puts its market value at 143.9 billion dollars.
In terms of consumer goods and global dominance, another company you no doubt have been a life-long customer of is the Swiss company, Nestle. According to its own website, it is the world’s largest food and beverage company in the world. Its brands include Nescafe, Milo, Kit-Kat, Maggi, lots of baby milk and food products, bottled water, cereals, and ice cream. Its global reach is astonishing, reaching people in all 196 countries of the world with all its 2,000-plus brands. It also has 447 factories in 86 countries as well as 333,000 employees. Its revenue for 2016 was just over 90 billion dollars. Like Facebook, Nestle might not pull in the biggest profits, but in terms of who it reaches, it is probably the one company that sells to almost everyone outside of some tribal cultures. Nestle is said to be worth about 229.5 billion dollars.
When we talk about most powerful, that could also include how many people rely on that company for a job. The third largest company regarding net worth is Microsoft, but the 500-plus billion behemoth actually only employs about 18,000 people. Alphabet has around 60,000 employees. This is nothing compared to fast-food giant McDonalds. If you saw our show on McDonalds, you’ll know that it employees 1.9 million people in 35,000 (and counting) restaurants in 119 countries. In the USA, it’s said that around one in eight people have worked for the restaurant chain at some point in their life. The last available statistic on how many burgers McDonalds has sold in total was said to be about 300 billion, but that was in 2014. As of 2015, it was selling about 550 million Big Macs alone every year. So what we know is that this one time single shop burger restaurant could have fed every person in the world many times over. How much money does it get for all its hard work? Forbes puts its 2016 yearly revenue at 24.6 billion, and its overall value quite low for this list at just 106.4 billion.
If we don’t include militaries, McDonalds is the second largest employer in the entire world. The largest employer is American firm Walmart. It employs 2.3 million people, which is about how many Americans are imprisoned, according to PrisonPolicy. It’s also just a little less than the entire population of the UK’s second largest city, Manchester. You’ll find Walmarts in 28 countries, and it has a total of 11,695 stores. It was bought in 1945 by a businessman called Sam Walton. His idea was to sell products in large quantities and keep the prices down. As a company, not corporation, it is the largest in the world. Forbes gives it a yearly revenue of 485.3 billion dollars and a valuation of 221.3 billion dollars.
Two other leaders of the pack in terms of size and revenue are automotive companies. They are Japan’s Toyota and Germany’s Volkswagen Group. Toyota employs more than 364,000 people, currently has a revenue of around 249.9 billion dollars, and a value of around 171.9 billion. The Toyota Corolla is in fact the biggest selling car of all time at over 43 million units sold. The next on the list is the Ford F-series, and then the next places are taken up by Volkswagen. That is the VW Golf (30 million sold) and the VW Beatle (23 million sold). VW is much larger than Ford, though. It employs 626 million people in 26 countries and has a revenue of more than 240 billion dollars. It’s currently worth around 75 billion. In terms of assets, it is huge, with 458.7 billion dollar’s worth. It’s called the “Group” because it also owns Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ducati, SEAT, Škoda, as well as commercial vehicles.
So, are behemoth corporations good or bad for society? Let us know in the comments!