The Strange Case of Companies that Grow in Recession
From 2007 and the onset of recession a small group of companies began enjoying exceptional sales and profit growth. Companies like Apple and Amazon.com to name just two. They didn’t just grow. They didn’t just begin to enjoy their best ever years. More significantly, they began performing like no other company before them.
Apple’s revenues in the third quarter of its 2010-2011 fiscal year were up 82% and profits were up 125%. This would be a supreme achievement at any time but the summer of 2011 was not a holiday period, where sales tend to be strong. And the economy still teetered on the edge of recession.
Apple was not just succeeding wildly. On the way to record profits, Steve Jobs’ team had created monumental disruption in a product category (smartphones) that the company had inhabited for a total of only four years. Shortly after entering smartphones, Apple created a new product category (tablets) single handedly with the launch of the iPad.
This was unusual success heaped on top of astonishing corporate performance.
In Amazon’s case, there is a similar tale of total novelty. With the launch of the Kindle ebook reader, the online retailer suddenly converted itself into a device company, a move that would normally spell chaos. At the same time Amazon also pioneered what became known as “platform as a service” and “cloud computing”, a revolution in how companies source their IT needs. Like Apple it opened new horizons for itself during the recession by doing what companies should not do – move into adjaceny markets with entirely new products.
In 2010/2011 Amazon’s revenues from its consumer electronics business line surged 69%, during an extremely weak recovery from recession. The remarkable feature of Amazon’s growth is that its profits briefly fell during the period, yet its share price rose. Barron’s called it a “religion stock”, one you believe in or don’t.
So why do people believe, and what is it people believe in? What is the bigger story behind these and similar successes?