Where Starbucks is more innovative than Apple

August 14, 2013

Forbes published its most-innovative-companies list Wednesday, and quite a few of the popular kids of the tech world are not on it.

Apple CEO Tim Cook waits off stage during the keynote address of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, June 10, 2013 in San Francisco. The company came in 79th among the "world's most innovative companies," according to a list compiled by Forbes. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Apple CEO Tim Cook waits off stage during the keynote address of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, June 10, 2013 in San Francisco. The company came in 79th among the “world’s most innovative companies,” according to a list compiled by Forbes. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

 

If you look at the top 10 you might think, for a moment, you’re in an alternate universe. None of the oft-mentioned U.S. tech companies are anywhere to be seen. Apple? Nope. Google? Try again. Facebook? What Facebook? LinkedIn? Unlinked. Twitter? Crickets. In fact, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn don’t even make the list. Google comes in at 47 and Apple at 79.

Cloud services company Salesforce.com takes the top spot for the third year in a row, followed by a drug company that focuses on rare-diseases, Alexion Pharmaceuticals. VM Ware, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, ARM Holdings, Chinese Web services company Baidu, Amazon.com (yes, the company founded and led by The Washington Post’s incoming owner, Jeff Bezos), Intuitive Surgical, Rakuten and Natura Cosmeticos are the top 10 most-innovative companies in the world, according to Forbes’s list.

“Most innovation rankings are popularity contests based on past performance or editorial whims. We set out to create something very different,” write list authors and Forbes contributors Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen. Dyer is a strategy professor at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management. Gregersen is an innovation and leadership professor at INSEAD. They are also the co-authors of “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.”

The list was compiled using a proprietary formula from HOLT/Credit Suisse, and measured companies’ “innovation premium,” which the authors describe as “the difference between their market capitalization and a net present value of cash flows from existing businesses.” That last part is where HOLT’s special sauce comes in. Ultimately, the difference between the two is — again according to the authors — “the bonus given by equity investors on the educated hunch that the company will continue to come up with profitable new growth.”

Hmm. “Educated hunch.”

Now, let’s go back to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In the case of Facebook, the authors have a reason for why it failed to make the list, and it’s not that the company lacks innovation heft. Rather, Facebook lacked the requisite seven years of public financial data. Twitter and LinkedIn have the same problem. Based on its 2012 data alone, they say, Facebook would be in the top 10. In order to be considered, companies also needed $10 billion in market capitalization. Banks didn’t make the list because they lack the necessary amount of R&D spending as a percentage of sales. Energy and mining firms are also out because of their market value’s tie to commodity prices more so than innovation.

Even more importantly, the authors note that there’s a “big caveat” in that the companies they chose may be the most innovative, but won’t necessarily deliver big returns to their investors.

“To the extent that today’s share price embeds high-growth expectations,” they write, “one might even anticipate returns to investors to be low, as these expectations may be difficult to meet.”

All of this, and more (there’s a three-step process around the HOLT/Credit Suisse secret sauce, including one step’s three sub-parts), contributes to a list where Starbucks is more innovative than SAP and less innovative than Estee Lauder, and ADP beats out Apple.

Agree or disagree with the list? Let us know in the comments.

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Dominic Basulto | August 14, 2013