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Fast-Forward Darwin: The Speed Imperative in Tech

The pace of industry evolution continues to pick up.

The 15 most-valuable technology companies have changed dramatically from 1999 to 2019

In 1999, the list of the 15 highest-valued technology companies worldwide was populated by mainframe legacy companies such as IBM; enterprise resource planning (ERP) darlings such as Oracle; and the winners of the PC/workgroup computing phenomenon: Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, Dell and HP.

A decade later, about half of the list had been replaced. The most notable additions were early winners in search (Google), mobile (Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung) and ERP consolidation (SAP). For the first time, a semiconductor foundry (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.) also made the list.

By 2019, 40% of the top 15 had turned over again. The newcomers illustrate the importance of social media (Facebook) and the growing influence of China (Tencent, Alibaba). But the decade’s most transformative trend was the massive global success of cloud technology. It enabled the growth of other newcomers to the list (Amazon, Netflix, Adobe), and stalwarts from 2009 (Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet) rode the wave to massive valuations 10 years later.

This rate of creative destruction speaks directly to the vibrancy and capacity for innovation of the technology sector. But is this dynamic nature par for the course in most industries?

The answer is no.

Research shows that technology companies are 12% more likely to be disrupted than companies in retail and 25% more likely than those in financial services, two other industries that have historically gone through disruptions (see Figure 2). Although the term “disruption” has become a cliché, here we’re specifically referring to companies whose annual market capitalization growth lags their sector’s average by 2 percentage points or more for at least three years in a row. Only advanced manufacturing and services companies have a higher likelihood of being disrupted than technology companies.


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