Through the years, I have watched with a kind of morbid fascination the number of once powerful companies that are no longer around. It would appear that Darwinian principles apply to companies as much as to organisms. There seems to be a kind of life cycle to a business, and beyond a certain number of years, the invisible hand of the marketplace lets you know that your time is up. And every so often, a kind of near-mass-extinction event seems to afflict a whole industry, such as is currently happening in the financial sector around the world.
How I came to my fatalistic view of business is not hard to understand. IBM's near-death experience in the 1990s was very painful for me personally and for all us in the company. Even though we managed to survive, as well as to recover and regain a position of leadership in the IT industry, the traumatic experience has definitely left its imprint and colors my views of the world.
Then there are the facts. In her book Let Go to Grow, my IBM colleague Linda Sanford cites a number of ominous statistics. For example, of more than 1,000 companies tracked by the Fortune 500 since 1960, less than one sixth of them are still around.