Fortune magazine, whose list of top 500 corporate performers is widely watched, declared on Sunday that ExxonMobile, the world's largest listed oil company, has overtaken Wal-Mart, the retail giant which has held first place for the past seven years, as America's top earner. Despite the slump in oil prices last year, Exxon beat Wal-mart in terms of both revenue and profit.
However, Fortune points out that 2008 was a bad year all around. Earnings of the Fortune 500 companies fell 85 per cent to $99 billion, in what the Time Inc-controlled magazine said was the biggest one-year drop in the list's 55 years.
Financial services companies were the hardest hit in this year's list. For example, Citigroup and Bank of America fell out of the top 10, while Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual and Wachovia were among 38 companies dropping out.
Fortune only lists US-based companies. Overall, it sends a dismal message, saying that overall profits of Fortune 500 companies have slumped to $98.9 billion from $645 billion in 2007.
In an editorial comment, the magazine does not fail to point a finger at the US automotive sector, which has garnered major government bailouts. ''The assumption was that consumer preferences would be slow to change,'' it says. ''This was wishful thinking.''
Women make a mark
While the list remains top-heavy with male chief execs, women are making an increasingly impressive mark. Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico, is listed fourth among "15 women showing what it takes to lead".
Under its 'Women CEOs' listing, fortune notes that since becoming CEO in 2006, Nooyi, 53, has expanded the company's top line-revenue by 10 per cent, apart from raising Pepsico's profile in some ''goodwill-engendering'' arenas
Nooyi, who gets $13.4 million a year in compensation, has pushed PepsiCo to target health-conscious and female consumers, resulting in such new products as Smartfood's low-fat popcorn clusters, low-calorie Trop 50, and Starbucks Frappuccino Lite.
"While Pepsi was forced to cut 3,500 jobs and close six plants last year, Nooyi has announced big expansions abroad: $500 million in India, $1 billion in China, and $3 billion in Mexico," Fortune said.
The number of women CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies has increased to 15 this year from 12 in 2008. The list is topped by Patricia Woertz, 56, chairman, president and CEO of Archer Daniels Midland. Well experienced in the oil industry, she gets a compensation of $17.5 million.
The list of top individual earners for 2009 includes three newcomers - Yahoo's new CEO Carol Bartz, Ellen Kullman, who moved up to the CEO post at DuPont in January, and Laura Sen of BJ's Wholesale Club.
About Bartz, the magazine said she is known for her candour, and since being named as CEO of Yahoo in January, "she's wasted no time telling it like it is".
"Bartz is focused on getting Yahoo in order: determined to look beyond search, she's stressed growth in content and information, she's open to partnering with social networking sites, and restructured the company to streamline its hierarchy and strengthen its global presence," the magazine added.
In its editorial, Fortune said, ''Given its monumental size, the 500 can hardly be summed up in one story. These companies employ 25.6 million people and account for $10.7 trillion of economic might, created both here and abroad. While it may be comforting to react to a messy year like 2008 with righteous anger, a more useful approach would be to look within the list for the clear truths we can find. So that's what we've done.''
Among the ''lessons to be learnt'', the publication listed ''gorging on easy profits'' and the belief that somehow or other, accepting increasing risk would always pay off. ''It is astonishing how little thought was given to the question: What if it doesn't last? The cabal of mega-losers on this list, led by AIG, answers that question pretty clearly,'' the magazine said.