The educator in me has great fun having students or audiences at speaking events guess interesting factoids from the world of international business, especially if the exercise creates a great teachable moment. For instance, based on the 2017 edition of the Fortune Global 500 list, I often ask students what they think the world’s most profitable company is. Most of the time, they get it right by guessing Apple. But then, when I ask about the second most profitable company, the fun begins. Common guesses are Google, Exxon, and the like – all large, American corporations. The correct answer, of course, is Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, with profits of close to $42 billion. Then I ask for the third most profitable company. There are still a few hard core traditionalists who think that it must be a US-based company, but others start to waiver and name, for instance, pharmaceutical giants like Gilead. The reality is that the number three, four, and five spots are all taken by Chinese financial institutions – China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, and Bank of China. There is, of course, an industry bias in these rankings, but generally it is also a good indicator for how the world economy is changing. In 1995, the US, Germany, and Japan where the world’s three leading export countries (in this order). In 2005, Japan was pushed from third place by China, and Germany had taken the number one spot. In 2014, China has by far become the largest exporting country in the world, followed by a distant second, the US, and Germany. One could jokingly shrug all of this off by saying that we all better learn Mandarin, but there is a more serious reality hidden behind the facts. The world economy continues to change and globalization is the name of the game, whether we like it or not.
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