What makes a company wired? We start by looking for the basics: strategic vision, global reach, killer technology. But that’s not enough. To land a spot on our annual Wired 40 list, a business also needs the X-factor – a hunger for new ideas and an impatience to put them into practice. Such companies inevitably become trendsetters, literally: As we debated and redebated the list this year, six major themes flickered into view. From the rise of peer production to the end of carbon pollution, they tell us where the world is heading. These are the companies leading the way.
2005 Rank: 02
Less cuddly but more profitable than ever, the monster from Mountain View has rivals but no peers. Is it a search engine? A media company? A software provider? Who cares? Microsoft, for one. Get ready for the grudge match of the decade.
2005 Rank: 01
In the drama of Apple’s resurgence, act one was forging the iTunes/iPod axis. Act two was bundling the iLife suite of creative tools with new computers. Adapting the Mac OS to run Windows apps natively would make a triumphant conclusion.
2005 Rank: 03
Smart design and rapid product development made Samsung tops in consumer electronics. What will the company do with its newly doubled research staff of 32,000 and a $40 billion budget? Next iPod, please!
2005 Rank: 07
Will biotech kill the blockbuster? Rather than aiming drugs at broad populations with scattershot results, Genentech is developing treatments for specific patient groups. Its success has Big Pharma reaching for the smelling salts.
2005 Rank: 05
Who says portal is a dirty word? The McDonald’s of cyberspace serves up a staggering 3.5 billion Web pages a day. Its relentlessly expanding feature stack gives even Google a touch of envy. So how about some respect?
2005 Rank: 04
Jeff Bezos has been pumping R&D money into projects like the A9 search engine and the Amazon Fishbowl webcast. But he’ll need a home run to offset shrinking margins. Music and video downloads may do the trick.
2005 Rank: 08
Ford and Nissan are licensing Toyota’s hybrid technology – it doesn’t get any better than that. And if the green road becomes clogged with competition from nonlicensees like GM and its GMC Sierra Hybrid pickup, the Japanese innovator can fall back on being the best carmaker in the world.
08. GENERAL ELECTRIC
2005 Rank: 17
Is there a big clean business GE hasn’t jumped on? Windmills, hybrid railroad engines, water systems, coal gasification – with six divisions, from GE Healthcare to NBC Universal, the megaconglomerate could start a new green revolution.
09. NEWS CORP.
Rupert Murdoch’s legendary opportunism was made for the mayhem of today’s media landscape. He built the only truly global constellation of news, sports, and entertainment properties. Newly acquired MySpace gives it a digital heart.
2005 Rank: 11
CEOs like their business apps to be just like their cars: big, fast, and German. While archrival Oracle expands its product line at M&A sword point, SAP rolls its own code, crafting slick modules for everything from analytics to HR. Can it meet the audacious goal of doubling its market cap by 2011? Innovation, ho!
11. INFOSYS TECH
2005 Rank: 09
Infosys made Bangalore the software outsourcing capital of the world. But globalization is a two-way street, and now companies like IBM are descending on India, scooping up talent and cutting margins. CEO Nandan Nilekani’s response: Upgrade to full-service IT consulting.
2005 Rank: 13
Cisco’s challenge is to keep dreaming up new uses for a commodity product: the IP router. CEO John Chambers’ latest focus is collaboration – knitting business apps together with megabandwidth audio and videoconferencing. Guess who sells the yarn.
13. ELECTRONIC ARTS
2005 Rank: 06
The game publisher has the muscle to survive while Sony and Nintendo delay their next-gen consoles. But the big money is in cyberspace. EA needs an online stronghold to avoid being caught in the platform crossfire.
2005 Rank: 15
The top online DVD rental house got that way using the US Postal Service, not a bandwidth-challenged Net. But thanks to BitTorrent, iTunes, and Hollywood’s growing cooperation, movie downloads are finally becoming viable. CEO Reed Hastings promises a digital strategy by year-end.
2005 Rankr: 20
CEO Marc Benioff is the high priest of software-as-service. Salesforce.com lets small businesses manage customers online, starting at $65 a month. Next: a Web-based business platform that offers 2,000 on-demand apps, from purchasing to recruiting.
2005 Rank: 18
Wild-eyed extropians heralding the posthuman future have nothing on Medtronic. The company’s newest implantable defibrillator will track your heart’s rate, internal pressure, and temperature – and posts the stats on the Net for your doctor to see.
17. SUNPOWER CORP.
If solar energy’s first problem is price, its second is the number of panels it takes to chill a six-pack. That’s where SunPower shines: Its photovoltaic silicon puts out 50 percent more juice per square inch.
2005 Rank: 14
Why peddle technology when you can sell business transformation? Big Blue still designs white-hot chips and spearheads Linux development. But CEO Sam Palmisano is betting that IBM’s future lies in high-end IT consulting and outsourcing services.
2005 Rank: 10
With $1.2 billion in profits last year, CEO Meg Whitman can afford costly fliers like buying Skype’s global phone system. But the challenge is closer to home: Social networks like MySpace could add buy/sell as just another feature.
Legal and technical complexities discourage wireless carriers from offering mobile games, news, sports, maps, etc. Enter InfoSpace, a dot-bust survivor that packages content for cell phones. Traffic is going one way: up.
Microsoft comes at 38th rank. :)