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Why they matter and how you can invest
Thursday 04 Oct 2018 Author: Steven Frazer

There are many ways to build a list that ranks the most important companies to people. In its most straightforward sense, for investors that are still in work, your employer or own business is almost certainly the most important company to you since they provide your source of income and contribute to your pension savings too.

Those in retirement might equally argue the case for the holder of their pension funds, or the fund managers with whom the bulk of their savings sit.

You could even make a firm case for the suppliers of certain products that fill your kitchen and bathroom cupboards or cabinets. Brands such as Domestos, Fairy, Heinz or Colgate would support claims for Unilever (ULVR), Proctor & Gamble, Kraft Heinz and Colgate-Palmolive respectively.

What about the suppliers of core electricity, gas and water services, the operator of the trains that get you to work every day, your mobile phone network or perhaps, for some, the brewer of your favourite pint?

More typical ways to rate the relevance of the world’s top companies tend to concentrate on other factors; they might judge by market value, brand strength or sales revenue, and all of these are bona fide ways to rank the importance of businesses.

US publication Fortune even produces a list of the world’s most admired companies. Apple, Amazon and Alphabet (Google’s parent) occupied the top three positions in the 2018 vote, with Starbucks and FedEx also in the top 10, which might raise an eyebrow or two.


Every year Fortune puts together a separate list of the top 500 global companies based on how much revenue each generates. Only 20 UK companies featured in 2017’s edition, down from 24 in the previous year, in a list predictably dominated by US (126) and Chinese companies (111), with Japan (52), Germany (32) and France (28) also prominent.

We’ve had to think globally to produce our list of the world’s best companies, picking 25 enterprises that we think have sweeping influence on the day-to-day lives of UK investors, and Brits in general. Our methodology is inclusive of some traditional metrics, such as scale and value, but with some subjectivity thrown into the mix.

Each selected company has been assessed on a number of factors and placed into what we believe is the most relevant grouping. There are three core sets – Mainstays, Enduring Brands and Disruptors.

Mainstays are companies that have been around for years providing services or goods that we can’t live without, and are likely to need in the years to come. These are not necessarily exclusive suppliers but they do, in our view, exert the most influence over people in the UK within a certain area.

Enduring Brands can be best described as supplying us with instant familiarity, where we know what we are getting immediately. Nike and Walt Disney are great examples where the name alone tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Perhaps McDonald’s is the best illustration, a restaurant chain where you could take a 10-year old child and they will know instantly what’s on offer.

Disruptors are companies that are either transforming existing business models, changing established practices, or are carving entirely new industry niches to exploit.

Think how Amazon has revolutionised buying stuff easily and cheaply online, or how Uber and Airbnb are turning urban mobility and the rooms for rent space on their heads.

Twenty years ago few people maintained friendships and connections on the internet (we’ll give a modest nod here to Myspace, remember it?). Now you can barely escape Facebook, which virtually invented social media as we know it today, and a million similar platforms.


There is a final bunch of companies on our list under the category of Tomorrow’s World. We’ve stuck our necks out by predicting a handful of potential superstar influencers for the decade ahead. These are all privately owned, venture capital-backed businesses so access for retail investors today is limited, although we have tried to provide names of funds that do own stakes where relevant.

To state the obvious, this is anything but a comprehensive collection of the world’s most important companies. A list 10 times as long would still struggle to cover all bases. Some may be prominent stock picks in your own portfolio, or held by funds or investment trusts you hold. Others may seem completely irrelevant to you.

In either case, why not send us some of the companies that are most important to you, via email at with the subject line ‘Best Companies’.

We haven’t included Netflix on the list of the world’s best companies because we don’t think its proposition is unique enough and we’re not sure where it goes next strategically, beyond signing up more subscribers. A move into music streaming would be a natural extension, but Amazon has already beaten it to this game.

The streaming market is evolving and competition is likely to intensify. Netflix is burning cash and has significant financial liabilities, plus there are no barriers to stop customers cancelling their subscriptions.

It has managed to sweep up masses of new customers because the price point is low. At some point it will have to be more aggressive with pricing or accept advertising which may be a big turn-off for a large chunk of its audience. (DC)



The world may be changing at a rapid pace but all of us still need some form of banking service. As well as being Europe’s largest bank, London-listed HSBC (HSBA) is also heavily exposed to faster growing markets in Asia. Operating across areas from high street to investment banking as well as wealth management, 90% of global GDP, trade and capital flows are covered by the company’s footprint. (TS)


With well-known products such as Johnson’s baby wipes and Listerine mouthwash, we are confident Johnson & Johnson will always be an integral part of everyone’s lives.

The company also develops medical devices and treatments to tackle the likes of cancer, infectious diseases and cardiovascular conditions. Its shares are listed in New York and can be bought through most UK investment platform providers or stockbrokers. (LMJ)


Fossil fuels still play a crucial role in the global economy and London-listed Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB) is one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers as well as being actively involved in the marketing and sale of petroleum products.

Since its £47bn acquisition of BG the company has a leading position in the rapidly growing liquefied natural gas market and has targeted natural gas more generally as part of its long-term strategy. (TS)


The South Korean electronics giant is best known for its Galaxy smartphones and flash TVs. Owning its shares is great way to cover loads of different electronics bases in a single company.

It isn’t resting on its hands as competition is tough from Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi and Huawei. The vast, if lesser-known, computer chip business is ultimately propping up overall revenue growth and profit.

Investors can get exposure via a multitude of funds or directly via its London-listed GDRs, Samsung (SMSN). (SF)


Payment processing giant Visa, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is arguably so central to modern life that you hardly even notice it. Visa processes more than 100bn transactions every year in more than 200 countries. Contactless payments mean the company is now picking up a bigger share of the small purchases which until recently would typically have been paid for in cash. (TS)


Founded in Arkansas by Sam Walton in the 1960s as a small discount retailer, New York-listed Walmart has become the world’s biggest retailer, operating thousands of stores in the US and internationally. It also operates e-commerce websites including and Flipkart, a majority stake purchased for nearly $16bn to take on arch-rival Amazon in India.

Walmart’s ‘Every Day Low Price’ mantra is the cornerstone of a successful strategy that has powered 45 consecutive years of dividend increases. Outside of the US, Walmart’s international business operates a staggering 6,360 stores spanning Africa and Brazil to Canada, Central America, Japan and China. (JC)



The Apple juggernaut continues to defy sceptics even in the face of global smartphone saturation, the key driver of profits today.

The world’s first trillion dollar company, it is increasingly driving its applications-based services business, such as Apple Pay, Apple Music and a vast collection of other value-added initiatives across its app store to power earnings in the future.

A host of tracker, global growth and technology funds offer a route to ownership, or the Nasdaq-listed stock can be bought easily over any half decent investment platform in the UK. (SF)


New York-listed beverages behemoth Coca-Cola boasts the best known brand in the world and the most popular soft drink in history. It is also an organic tea, premium juice and sports drinks business.

Its recent buying spree includes the proposed acquisition of coffee chain Costa, and the purchase of a stake in sports drink brand BodyArmor; the drinks titan is also extending its push into healthier beverages including sparkling waters as consumers move away from sugary fizzy drinks. (JC)


LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is the world’s biggest luxury group, a colossus whose enduring brands span Louis Vuitton, one of the world’s top luxury labels by sales, Christian Dior, Krug champagne and Hennessy cognac.

The Paris-headquartered luxury conglomerate, guided by the suave Bernard Arnault, ranks among the best ways to play the rise of the super-rich across emerging markets including China. Its shares trade on Euronext and can easily be bought on UK investment platforms. (JC)


The golden arches synonymous with the McDonald’s fast food chain, whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange, now occupy countries all over the globe. A key selling point of the brand is that customers know exactly what they are getting, whether they are at a McDonald’s in Paris or Peru. The strength of its brand allows it to increasingly operate as a franchise model, reducing costs. (TS)


Hogging headlines lately for its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad campaign, athletic footwear, clothing and accessories designer Nike is a globally renowned enduring brand.

Its ‘Just Do It’ slogan is instantly recognisable and the world’s largest sportswear maker’s sneakers continue to be coveted the world over by the youth demographic.

Scale, an intangible brand asset and key sponsorships are competitive advantages driving high returns on capital for this global growth star turn. (JC)



The undisputed king of Japan’s auto industry, Toyota is the world’s largest by volume thanks to hugely popular models such as the Camry and Prius, the latter an indicator of how the company is preparing for a hybrid or fully electric vehicle future.

Toyota this year pumped $1bn into fast-growing Asia-based ride-hailing company Grab (an Uber rival) while also spending $2.8bn alongside several auto parts suppliers to create a new company focused on self-driving cars. Toyota’s shares can be bought either via its London or New York listing. (SF)


New York-listed Walt Disney has rapidly been buying up content in recent years, underpinning its status as an enduring brand.

We would argue there’s not a single global entertainment group which can compete with Disney on both quality of content and its ability to extract value through merchandising, particularly since it acquired the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. It also recently agreed the $52.4bn takeover of 21st Century Fox’s media assets. (TS)



Airbnb is disrupting the hotel industry as it allows people to rent their homes, rooms, apartments – or even castles and treehouses – to visitors through its online platform. We believe its growth potential is significant.

Founded in 2008, Airbnb has enjoyed staggering growth with approximately 2m people every night staying at places listed on the site. The online platform allows accommodation providers to boost supply in popular areas at a more attractive price for cash-conscious travellers.

Airbnb is currently unlisted and is planning to float on an undisclosed stock market in 2019.

Retail investors keen to gain exposure in advance of this event can get exposure via investment trust Scottish Mortgage (SMT), although Airbnb only accounts for 0.3% of the entire portfolio. (LMJ)


Alphabet is the product of a rather confusing name change a while back but this is Google as far as investors need be concerned. That to ‘google’ something has entered the everyday vernacular as a verb to search the internet says it all about how the company dominates the online universe, and importantly, advertising spend.

Its tentacles cover YouTube and the Android smartphone operating system. It is also looking at capturing tomorrow’s technology growth opportunities through its Google Ventures blue sky investment arm.

Despite coming under fire from regulators (it was fined $2.7bn by European watchdogs last year), Alphabet’s revenues and profits are still growing in double-digits, and the share price continues to perform well. (SF)


Having become the second trillion dollar company this year (after Apple), Amazon’s transformation of online retail is old hat now, yet investors are eyeing expansion into hi-tech physical stores, healthcare disruption and more.

The most rapid growth is coming from Amazon Web Services (also known as AWS), its cloud computing services arm. 

Amazon invests massively to carve out market domination and cement future revenue and profit grow. This strategy has created vast wealth for shareholders and poses the question: is this the best growth company in the world?

There are a large number of funds and investment trusts holding the stock, making it easy to get exposure. The alternative is for interested investors to buy the Nasdaq-listed stock directly via their UK investment platform provider. (SF)


Facebook has endured a rocky ride through 2018. The social networking giant has been mired in multiple controversies, including a data selling scandal with Cambridge Analytica that had CEO Mark Zuckerberg testify at two Congressional hearings.

In spite of intense political criticism and unflattering media attention Facebook’s business has continued to grow at pace, largely driven by online advertising.

Investors are being drawn to the stock by the implied potential for Facebook to harness its vast data network, through machine learning and artificial intelligence. It will face ongoing oversight by regulators but there is little evidence that Facebook’s growth days
are ending. (SF)


While SpaceX isn’t sending people into space yet, Tesla boss Elon Musk’s ‘other’ baby is already on a path to transform space flight operations and economics. This is largely thanks to its own Falcon 9 re-useable rocket (well, part of it can re-land), technology that is truly disrupting SpaceX projects.

SpaceX runs many of Nasa’s projects and has Mars and beyond in its sights. A new Falcon Heavy rocket, designed to carry goods and people between Earth and the red planet, could be a step forward, but it’s a growing satellites industry that is likely to drive profitability, when it comes.

SpaceX remains privately-owned but Google and Fidelity Investments have poured more than $1.6bn of growth funding into the company. A stock market float isn’t out of the question in the medium to long term. (SF)


Often compared to Facebook, in truth Tencent has built an ecosystem in its China backyard that is far wider and deeper than its US peer. At the heart of this network is a wealth of messaging and social networking platforms, namely WeChat  and QQ.

WeChat is a phenomenon and one of the world’s fastest growing social apps. Released in 2011, the platform combines messaging, social communication and lots of mobile games, all in a single easy-to-use app that has more than 1bn monthly active users.

Online payments, shopping and leisure activities are also wrapped into the platform, meaning users barely need to go anywhere else. is China’s largest local language portal integrating news, interactive communities, entertainment products and widely-used basic services. Vast growth potential remains in China but Tencent is also eyeing overseas expansion.

UK investors can buy the Hong Kong-listed stock via most UK investment platforms or they could get exposure by a variety funds and investment trust such as Martin Currie Asia Unconstrained (MCP). (SF)


The business has completely disrupted the taxi market and has aspirations to be a much broader transport group. Uber wants its app to be a one-stop-shop for ride hailing, bike and scooter sharing, car rentals and public transport.

It won’t be a smooth ride as Uber faces regulatory, cultural and competitive hurdles. Yet significant progress on the taxi side would suggest it has the vigour to overcome problems.

Uber is expected to float on a stock market in 2019. Morningstar valued it at $110bn in July and forecasts profitability in 2022. ‘We project that Uber’s net revenue will grow at a 27% average annual pace over the next 10 years to $82.4bn,’ it adds. (DC)



23andMe identifies how genetics can influence risks for certain diseases and if you are a carrier of inherited conditions such as breast cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

This information can then be used to help carriers be aware of conditions that they may pass on to children, so they can be closely monitored, or even to make changes to their own lives.

23andMe recently dominated headlines after revealing exclusive a four-year collaboration with pharmaceutical colossus GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for customer data to help the latter discover drug targets.

Various news outlets speculate the business is currently worth $1.8bn. There is no news on a stock market flotation, but this is certainly a name to keep watching. (LMJ)


It may not be a household name, but cybersecurity firm Darktrace is now worth $1.65bn – not bad for a five-year-old firm.

It uses machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to alert customers when their systems have been infiltrated.

Its software learns the patterns of normal behaviour inside a computer network, so it can spot anomalies when they occur and stop problems from escalating into a crisis. The downside for investors is that it has no current plans to float on the stock market. (DC)


Digital health business Babylon Health is aiming to reduce the strain on healthcare services by helping people interpret symptoms via its artificial intelligence and direct them to a human doctor if medical care is needed.

The company also connects patients with doctors via phone calls or video chat on their mobile, so they can receive medical advice and potentially a prescription.

Babylon currently has operations in the UK and Rwanda, but plans to expand into China, the US, Canada and the Middle East. (LMJ)


Britain biggest start-up digital bank launched in 2015 and now has more than 1m customers, more than half of whom are thought to be under 30 years old. Customers do everything via a mobile app including identity verification using their phone’s camera. The only physical element is a card to make transactions.

Monzo is expected to attract a valuation of up to $1.5bn at its next financing round, potentially in late 2018. Media reports suggest retail investors may be able to take part via crowdfunding platform Crowdcube, as per a previous fundraise in 2016. (DC)


The worldwide water sector is among the most exciting of sustainable long-term investment trends. Among the relevant companies is Xylem, a $14.5bn water technology expert offering a broad range of equipment, analytics, products, and services to transport, treat and test water for utilities, industry and agriculture.

Xylem’s portfolio of products and services address the cycle of water, from collection, distribution and use to the return of water to the environment.

It is the top holding in investment fund Pictet Water (B516BZ3) and also sits within Bankers Investment Trust’s (BNKR) portfolio. Xylem’s shares are listed in New York. (JC)


It may be worth nearly half a trillion dollars and the annual shareholder letter from chairman, CEO and largest shareholder Warren Buffett, remains required reading for investors but Berkshire Hathaway does not find a place in our list of the world’s most important companies.

Berkshire is a holding company not an individual business which has an impact on our day-to-day lives. It does however invest in highly influential and important companies, including some which are constituents of our list such as Apple and Coca-Cola. (TS)


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