10 platinum investments
THE The business life cycle has been shrinking for years. A recent study from Yale University suggested that the average lifespan of a publicly traded company in the United States has fallen from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today. Another concluded that in any group of companies, only half of them could still exist ten years from now.
Businesses have always come and gone. This is part of the process of creative destruction. Innovations are coming that make what came before obsolete. This is the price to pay for progress.
So in the week we celebrate the Queen’s remarkable platinum jubilee – 70 years on the throne – it’s interesting to look at the handful of companies that have remained at the top of the British business ladder over the past seven decades. What qualities enabled them to match the impressive longevity of our monarch?
Here are ten major listed companies that were operating at the time of Her Majesty’s ascension in 1952 and still operating there today. As the table below shows, some of them were already well-established companies 70 years ago.
1. Royal Mail – founded in 1516
2. WH Smith – founded in 1792
3. Burberry – founded in 1856
4. Sainsbury’s – founded in 1869
5. Marks & Spencer – founded in 1884
6. Tate & Lyle – founded in 1885
7. Rolls Royce – founded in 1904
8. Aston Martin – founded in 1913
9. Unilever – founded in 1927
10. Greggs – founded in 1939 / first store opened in 1951
So what can we learn from this list of surviving companies? What do they have in common that has allowed them to see off their rivals and stay on top of their game?
The first thing that jumps out at you is that almost all of them have powerful brand names. In part, it’s just a reflection of how long they’ve been a part of our lives. But it also suggests that these are companies with which we have developed a real affinity. Hard to imagine that they are not there.
The second theme is the defensiveness of their businesses. They make or sell things we can’t live without. No wonder three in ten are food retailers. Whatever the state of the economy, we will continue to eat, so Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Greggs are well protected from the vagaries of the economic cycle.
Food isn’t the only staple provided by the companies on the list. Unilever’s homewares portfolio is a roll call of household names, from Hellmann’s to Knorr, Wall’s to Omo. Marks & Spencer has been dressing us for as long as it has been feeding us. Tate & Lyle has kept us sweet since the Queen’s almost as old great-grandmother was at Buckingham Palace.
When the new Queen Elizabeth II returned from Kenya to step into her late father’s shoes, flying was a luxury available to few. Rolls-Royce was probably better known for its cars than for its aircraft engines. Today, the company has approximately 28,000 civil and military engines in service worldwide. The company literally keeps us in the air. And while we wait to board, WH Smith is happy to sell us a magazine to pass the hours.
The rich are different, they say. For them, the ebb and flow of the economy is neither here nor there, so it’s no surprise that luxury goods have been another key to corporate longevity. Burberry’s iconic trench coats are always in style and who wouldn’t want to emulate that other great British survivor, James Bond, in his Aston Martin car?
Perhaps the oldest company on our list is the one most threatened by the changes that swept through the final years of the Second Elizabethan Age. Royal Mail now delivers more parcels than letters, almost none of us write to each other anymore, but pretty much all of us do an increasing proportion of our shopping online.