International Business Machines--that's IBM to you and me--reached an impressive milestone this week: The company turned 100 years old. That longevity is impressive, but many American companies have become institutions. Ford Motors is almost 110 years old, US Steel is also at the 110 year mark, and Sears, Roebuck and Co. is 125 years old this year!
Companies such as Apple and Microsoft are barely middle aged by comparison, while Google and eBay are just children at this point. The question is whether any of these companies will reach the 100-year mark. Here is a look at five companies that could stand the test of time:
The company changed the way people buy books, practically driving Borders and Barnes and Noble out of business. Amazon.com sells a lot more than books today; last fall, it bought Soap.com and Diapers.com. It is hard to imagine that people will stop buying stuff, so Amazon.com should be a shoe in for reaching the big 1-0-0.
How many of us ever took part in an auction before eBay? While the company has slowly moved away from the small sellers and one-of-a-kind items, eBay still caters to its Power Sellers, many of whom use it as their primary source of income. eBay also owns PayPal, and while the company has faced a backlash over PayPal fees, this credit card pass-through is going to be hard to beat. Love it or hate it, PayPal remains the easiest way to send money online, and eBay will maintain that position for a long time--maybe even 100 years.
The company that started in search does... everything, as long as it isn't evil. Google has operating systems and that whole Googleplex, and it looks to change the word. But in the end, Google remains the best (or at least most popular) search engine. Before Google we used to hear a lot about the new Yahoo, or the new Alta Vista--or even the new Hotbot. Now we have Google, and the company is continuing to make its search engine better. It even recently added voice search capabilities.
The Redmond-based software giant started out making a simple DOS-based operating system for IBM's computers. Then they took away the PC business from IBM, by selling its OS to other PC makers. The company has had its hits and misses, but it continues to keep people coming back for more.
There is no doubt that Microsoft will face increased competition from Google and Apple, but the PC will likely remain part of our daily lives for years to come, and the simple fact that it has also evolved will help it weather the storm. In its early days Microsoft made DOS, which it killed with Windows, an OS we just keep buying. While Vista was a wreck, we came back for Windows 7, and soon we can pay again for Windows 8.
Microsoft, as with Google, is more than a one trick pony. It has its successful Xbox 360 video game platform, and made some savvy investments--such as Skype--and could very easily go to the cloud in the years to come. You really this company will ever go away?
Yes, Big Blue is going to stick around for another 100 years. The company might be out of the desktop PC market, but it is out of the electric typewriter market too. Those other typewriter companies were either bought up or are out of business, but IBM managed to evolve and is still here. The company is looking at cloud computing, which could put it back on top in the business world. And if all else fails, it has a computer that can beat humans at Jeopardy!
Of course, for every IBM there is a Smith Corona--the latter was founded 25 years before IBM and thus actually reached 100 years in business, but it finally went bankrupt in 1995. Here are a few other companies that might not survive through the ages:
Steve Jobs is the face of Apple, and its greatest driving force. The company almost died in the 1990s, and it took Jobs to bring Apple back from the brink. And once Jobs leaves the company, it could very well lose its direction. While Apple has plenty of other executives that have been able to step in while Jobs has been on medical leave, losing Jobs would leave a gaping hole in the company that would be difficult to fill.
Dell or HP
One of these companies will buy the other and might reach 100 years. The PC market is changing, and it isn't clear if Dell or HP are up to changing times. HP bought Palm for its WebOS, suggesting that this company could have some ideas about the future of smartphones and tablet, and Dell has dabbled in other markets, but these companies are heavily reliant on traditional PC hardware. These companies need some innovation to stay relevant. Is either up to the challenge?
Priceline, Groupon, FourSquare
Last year Groupon turned down big dollars from Google. Big mistake. Priceline survived the last bubble burst, but even with its William Shatner ads the truth is that there is a lot of competition for finding cheap hotels and airfare. These companies will likely join eToys, Pets.com and GeoCities.
Last summer Facebook reach 500 million users, and while Facebook denies it, new research from Inside Facebook suggests the social media site may be losing users. Facebook remains popular, but MySpace was popular and Friendster was popular. If history is any indication social networks rise and fall quickly. And let's not forget the ongoing privacy concerns surrounding the company.
Facebook might make it easy to keep in contact with friends and family, and to share news and photos, but at some point, something better will likely come along. It is easier to take the throne than keep it. And do you really think in 100 years people will be doing Facebook updates from their vacation to the Moon? Maybe, maybe not.