Past and Present: The Fortune 500 in 1988 vs. 2018

As Fletcher/CSI reflects on the past 30 years of advising the world’s leading companies, it is interesting to analyze how the Fortune 500 list has changed since our founding in 1988. Today, we focus on providing competitive intelligence and strategy consulting services to technology, life sciences, finance & insurance, and CPG companies. However, in 1988, we primarily served clients in the manufacturing/industrial and financial services sectors. To see a snapshot of industry changes over the last three decades, we looked at the top 30 Fortune 500 companies in both 1988 and the most recent list (published by Fortune.com in 2017) to see how the lists compared. As expected, the top companies on the Fortune 500 list today and 30 years ago represent the major industries that we have advised during the respective eras. Here are a few other observations that stood out after comparing the lists:

1. Approximately 25% of the top 30 companies in 1988 are part of the top 30 list of 2017, including Exxon Mobil, General Motors, AT&T, Ford Motor, General Electric, Chevron, and Boeing.

2. In 1988, the top 30 companies were dominated by the oil/petroleum, gas, and automotive industries.

3. The 2017 top 30 list is represented by more industries than the 1988 list, with an observed increase in companies from the healthcare, technology, insurance, grocery, and retail sectors.

4. In 2017, healthcare-related companies dominate the top 30, but not a single healthcare player was included in the top 30 in 1988.

5. Several of the energy companies that were part of the top 30 list in 1988 remain in the top 30 in 2017, but there has been significant M&A activity in this space over the past few decades, e.g., Mobil and Exxon merger; Chevron acquisition of Texaco.

6. Revenues achieved by the top company in 2017 (Walmart) are almost five times greater than revenues gained by the top company in 1988 (General Motors).

7. The majority of the top 30 companies in 1988 still exist today in 2017.

The table below shows the 1988 archives and most recent 2017 Fortune 500 lists side-by-side.

Does anything interesting stand out to you about the two lists or how specific industries have evolved over the past 30 years?

Author: Holly McClelland, Director of Marketing & Senior Analyst