For centuries, the idea of power within our global society has been perpetuated, transferred, and grasped at by nations and empires; the political lines of countries and continents have formed the outline of existence for billions of people. This arrangement provided some modicum of stability, a foundation for individual cultures to flourish, and a framework for economic activity. However, as with any manmade structure, certain elements decay, new pieces are added for support, and eventually, its composition is irreparably changed.
While business and trade have been a part of our human consciousness since the first humanoid traded a sharpened rock for a piece of dry wood, in recent decades, industry has exponentially evolved and assumed a much larger role in the daily lives of people across the globe. People used to identify with nations, pledging their allegiance to one king or another, but the broad boundaries of loyalty, as a concept, have expanded. From birth, we are trained to ally ourselves with groups of like-minded people, whether it is the other members of our hometown, believers in a certain faith, or devoted fans of one musician or artist. Industry was somewhat late to this game, and for many years, the business world was purely a place of commerce, a place where needs were met.
As companies swelled in size and began overflowing into other regions, nations, and continents, familiarity created a superficial form of popularity or brand loyalty, but that was primarily based on availability. However, the influence of corporate entities has never stopped growing. As we look around the world today, we see that where loyalty, wealth, and power used to remain firmly and undeniably in the hands of nations and political entities, businesses have gradually reached the same echelon of influence.
This is not to say that foreign relations and global politics have become any less important in the progress of the world; they merely have to share the stage to a certain degree with other very important economic and industrial actors. The intermingling of business and politics has become a tangled, indecipherable web that touches, restricts, or drives every country on earth. In reality, the number of sovereign states is anywhere between 195 and 203, depending on who you ask and what country they’re from. However, for all intents and purposes, the number of sovereign nations on the planet should also include the massive political and economic clout of a few dozen corporations that exist and thrive around the world.
For example, in 2013, Google reported a net income of approximately 12.92 billion USD. According to the IMF’s report of global GDP (Gross Domestic Product), Google is wealthier than 64 sovereign nations. A single corporation, which is less than 20 years old, has managed to develop enough of a loyal following around the globe to outrank roughly 1/3 of the planet’s nations in terms of individual wealth. If you consider Google’s net income, which is a more accurate measurement in comparison to GDP, then this search engine titan brings in more money per year than 114 nations of the world. These numbers and comparisons may be staggering, but you must also consider that Google is only a single company out of hundreds of multi-billion dollar corporations. Google isn’t the most wealthy – not by a long shot. It doesn’t even make it into the Top 50 (#52, according to Forbes, 2013).
The point is, the days of thinking that the world is run by presidents, parliaments, dictatorships, and democracies are over. Although we may not like to admit it, money makes the world go round, and the significance of business and industry are undeniable. Unlike nations, where citizenship presupposes a certain amount of loyalty, the vast majority of global businesses participate in a free market, meaning that people can pick and choose which golden idol they want to worship. Competition is a cornerstone of commerce, which means that companies are desperate to grow, influence, impress, and engage more and more potential customers as possible.
Certain companies seem to have found the secrets to success, the magic words that cause millions of people to flock to their doors, wallets in hand. Certain companies have the advantage of supplying a necessary (or perceived as necessary) product, such as oil companies and other energy providers, but the truly visionary companies are those that are not “essential” in the Maslowian sense of the word. The past two decades have seen the astronomical rise of tech companies as the Digital Age moved from dawn to daylight. Many of the most successful and wealthy tech companies have rather inspiring origin stories, but Google’s rise to dominance has been particularly profound and thought-provoking.
By largely throwing out the model for successful business practices and reconstructing a strategy for success from scratch, Google has been able to grow faster and more efficiently than almost any company (or country) in history. For that precise reason, millions of hungry, eager eyes look to the company for inspiration on everything from product design to company culture, but on a purely quantitative level, the growth of Google is what fascinates people. This search engine, which at first glance is no different than many of its functionality competitors, has created an empire that spans industries, oceans, and generations.