The day this issue of Business Today went to press, IBM Corporation completed one hundred years. What started as the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, manufacturing computing scales, time clocks, and even coffee grinders, quickly grew into Big Blue, a vast global presence in computing under Tom Watson, Senior and Junior, building its power on the mainframe. Like all innovative giants - remember FORTRAN, the punched card, and the floppy disk? - IBM too turned complacent and came perilously close to extinction in the early 1990s because it failed to grasp the power of the personal computer, and as Louis V. Gerstner, chairman and CEO from 1993 to 2002 writes in Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?, surrendered control of the PC's operating system to Microsoft and its microprocessor to Intel. All that is history, though, and today IBM is in good shape. A few days before its anniversary, IBM's Watson computer system was voted "Person of the Year" at the annual Webby Awards for winning the Jeopardy! television quiz show against two formidable human opponents.
What is it that keeps old companies going, richly and successfully, for a century or longer? Mahesh Vyas, Managing Director and CEO of CMIE, or the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, who has been studying companies for a long time, says the great story is about how large Indian industrial houses were tested by liberalisation post-1991 and far from becoming dinosaurs, have grown and prospered.
Vyas says the Tatas, Birlas and Goenkas have all transformed in this new environment and have become stronger. "They have hived off useless units, focused on core competencies, and expanded," he says. "They coped with FERA and the MRTP Act and were better equipped to face the storm. They have been much smarter than many of the start-ups people predicted would displace them." Business Today will turn 20 in January 2012, and we are celebrating with a series of special issues.
The first one, New Business Families, ran in our April 17 issue. This fortnight we look at a number of Indian companies that have been around for one hundred years or longer, and not just survived but in most instances, thrived. Deputy Editor Somnath Dasgupta and Senior Editor Anand Adhikari led the team of writers that spent weeks digging through archives, tromping through fusty old buildings, and talking to old companies' (younger) executives. A CMIE database yielded the information that of 6,696 listed companies in India, 175 were older than 100 years. We offer you a selection of some of the better-known of them and hope you will enjoy them as much as we enjoyed writing, photographing and designing the package.
One of the companies we feature is ITC Limited. Its Chairman and CEO Yogesh Deveshwar is poised to get a five-year extension after 15 years at the helm, making him one of the longest-serving corporate leaders in India. Like Gerstner, Deveshwar took over a company in serious trouble and then charted a path of remarkable recovery for the maker of everything from cigarettes to paper and soap. Read the extensive and candid interview with Deveshwar and for the full transcript go to www.businesstoday.in/deveshwar.