Two of the best business books I’ve read about big companies with humble journeys from little startups into major economic forces are Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz and Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
In Schultz’s case, he joined Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) in 1982 as director of retail operations and marketing. At the time, Starbucks was more about the coffee and not so much about the experience. Schultz wanted to open actual coffee shops to sell brewed coffee, while the owners of Starbucks didn’t.
Needless to say, we know that Schultz ended up getting his way. And that’s a pivot that made a lot of people very wealthy, including Schultz himself.
When it comes to Phil Knight and Nike (NYSE:NKE), he started out selling Japanese track shoes with Bill Bowerman, his former track coach at the University of Oregon. In this instance, Nike was born in 1971 after Bowerman used his wife’s waffle maker to make a rubber sneaker sole.
The rest, as they say, is history.
A more recent example of a business pivot would be GameStop (NYSE:GME), which is in the middle of transforming from a brick-and-mortar retailer of video games. Ryan Cohen, co-founder of Chewy (NYSE:CHWY), wants to transform the company into the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) of gaming.
Controlling more than half the board, he just might do it.
Let’s take a look at 7 big businesses with the size and scale to successfully pivot:
- Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE)
- Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM)
- Sony (NYSE:SONY)
- Square (NYSE:SQ)
- Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU)
- Fiserv (NASDAQ:FISV)
- Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD)
As we continue to see big developments and changes in technology, these companies are strong enough to find a way to keep making money.
Big Companies Powerful Enough to Pivot: Adobe (ADBE)
My most recent Adobe endorsement was last month, when I included it on a list of seven recession-proof stocks to buy to get investors through most economic downturns.
I concluded my take on Adobe saying, “Five years from now, you won’t regret having bought ADBE stock.” It’s up 16% in the six weeks or so since. You can chalk that up to lucky timing.
When it comes to pivoting successfully, history shows Adobe hasn’t been a company to sit still. To illustrate, check out this blog post from Product Habits entitled “How Adobe Became a Successful $95 billion SaaS Company.” In that article, the author runs through the company timeline from 1982 through 2017.
First, there was Photoshop, the visual design application that became a household name. ADBE grew into a massive enterprise software provider by going where business was heading, rather than where it had been.
Then, between 1994 and 2006, Adobe used acquisitions to transition into the consumer market after being almost exclusively a provider of design tools for businesses. Over the next decade, from 2007 to 2017, it transitioned once more and became a cloud-based SaaS company.
I can say with certainty that the Adobe of 2031 won’t be identical to today’s Adobe. History has proven this to be true.
My guess is that Salesforce.com founder and CEO Marc Benioff will be remembered more for his commitment to stakeholder capitalism than he will for creating a cloud-based software company worth $210 billion whose suite of applications are vital to businesses everywhere.
A student-faculty blog published by the University of Denver — The Race to the Bottom — recently pointed out that 61 companies, including Salesforce, had made a major commitment to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives.
“All 61 companies have committed to focusing annual reporting on 21 ESG-centered ‘Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics.’ Id. These metrics not only create consistency, but also allow for companies to compare the success of ESG initiatives over time between and amongst competitors,” the March 3 blog post stated.
Benioff believes that companies must hold themselves accountable. It’s the only way for a business to retain the trust of every stakeholders it interacts with.
To me, this is just as important a pivot for the company’s future health as its $27 billion acquisition of Slack Technologies (NYSE:WORK). Assuming Benioff carries through on his commitment, I expect big things to happen for this company over the next 10 to 20 years.
A body in motion stays in motion. That’s a paraphrased version of Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion. But beyond physics, I believe it’s an apt description for this technology conglomerate that got its start shortly after World War II.
On April 1, 2021, Sony Corporation became Sony Group, its first name change in 63 years. As the Financial Times explained when the company first introduced the change in June 2020, Sony wanted to put all of its divisions on equal footing with its electronics business.
The company has built a powerful conglomerate over 74 years in business. And it is proud of this fact. It has seven distinct businesses: Games & Network Services, Music, Pictures, Electronics Products & Solutions, Imaging & Sensing Solutions, Financial Services, and New Initiatives.
“Its offerings of music, movies, TV and games, when combined with the various delivery mechanisms Sony produces (virtual reality, streaming services and soon to include the PlayStation 5) appear to vindicate years of persistence with a business mix that always seemed more cohesive in principle than it ever quite delivered in practice,” said Financial Times contributor Leo Lewis.
Since Sony first announced the name change in June 2020, SONY stock is up almost 60%. If there is a company that will continue to pivot, Sony is it.
I’ve been a fan of Square for a long time. I think the first time I recommended SQ stock was in February 2017.
“I wouldn’t make SQ stock a core holding, but I’d have no problem recommending the stock for a small part of your portfolio because businesses that make or save people money tend to do well in the long run; it does both,” I wrote on Feb. 3, 2017.
Well, today Square’s market cap is $120 billion, 2.1x greater than Twitter’s.
One needs only look at Square’s website to understand that when it comes to pivots, Square is all about change. The company suggests that society’s move to a cashless society was accelerated greatly by Covid-19. It estimates the shift away from cash usage would have taken more than three years without a pandemic forcing the issue.
Where might Square be headed next?
Well, we already know that it’s getting into banking with Square Financial Services, an industrial bank that will begin its journey by underwriting and originating business loans. In combination with Square’s acquisition of Tidal, Jay-Z’s streaming service, this suggests CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey is looking much farther down the road than most.
I can’t wait to see what it does next.
Back in 2014, then CEO Brad Smith — he now serves as Executive Chairman — launched Intuit’s three-year plan to grow its cloud-based business. To do that, Smith sent his people into the field to get new ideas that weren’t generic rip-offs of other products and services.
“We followed the leaders of the product companies that we admired. Each one of us followed a CEO and watched how they made their decisions, how they engaged their teams, how much time they spent in products, and we changed the way we lead inside the company,” Smith said during Intuit’s annual investor briefing in September 2014. “The fruits of that labor showed up this year.”
As part of its plan, Intuit set a three-year goal to generate 73% of its revenue from recurring, cloud-based services by the end of fiscal 2017.
How’s it doing that?
The company’s January 2021 presentation points out how much growth it’s had since 2010, which it considers the beginning of the mobile and cloud era. From July 201o through July 2020, it grew its customer base by 97%, from 29 million to 57 million.
Over this period, its stock increased 900%, 2.4 times the Nasdaq and 4.5 times the S&P 500.
Over the next five years, INTU wants to grow its customer base to 200 million or more, an almost four-fold increase. To do that, it wants to make consumers and business owners better decision-makers about their finances, with disruption at the center of it all.
In May 2019, former CEO Jeff Yabuki gave the keynote speech at Fiserv’s annual Forum conference.
“The world is changing faster than ever,” Yabuki said. “The line between a crazy idea and the next big thing is nearly impossible to discern.”
Fiserv’s May 14 blog post dug a little deeper into that thought.
“Dancing on that fine line between crazy and innovation are concepts that carry monumental implications for financial services and payments,” Fiserv states.
“Real-time money movement, artificial intelligence, and harnessing the power of data and analytics represent both the challenge of adapting to change and a wealth of opportunities for businesses to deepen customer relationships.”
Businesses are being reimagined daily to meet the needs of consumers in a time of flux and change.
In July 2019, Fiserv completed its $22 billion acquisition of First Data in an all-stock transaction. Since then, First Data shareholders who kept their FISV stock are sitting on 24% gains over 21 months.
It’s not spectacular, but the performance is solid nonetheless. As long as Fiserv continues to embrace change, I’m sure it will continue to do right by its shareholders.
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)
I don’t think many companies have changed as much as Advanced Micro Devices has since CEO Lisa Su took the helm in October 2014.
When the company’s board promoted Su from Chief Operating Officer to CEO, the chipmaker faced a potential bankruptcy filing. Six-and-a-half years later, AMD stock is riding high, up almost 3,000%.
To get to today, Su had to take some calculated risks about where the company should focus its energy.
“It is really important when you’re a technology company to decide what you are really, really good at because you have to be the best, number one or number two,” Su told CNN Business in March 2020.
“It’s all about focusing on, ‘Hey, this is the DNA of the company, let us make it as great as possible in terms of what we can bring to the market.’”
Amazingly, as much success as Su’s had in recent years, she believes that the future remains highly competitive, requiring AMD always to be thinking years in the future so it can bring its customers products they didn’t even know they needed.
Su’s made big gains from gaming and artificial intelligence. Who knows where AMD might pivot in the next 2-3 years. However, if there’s one thing investors have learned, it’s that this CEO is not afraid to take chances.
That’s an important quality to possess.
On the date of publication, Will Ashworth did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article.
Will Ashworth has written about investments full-time since 2008. Publications where he’s appeared include InvestorPlace, The Motley Fool Canada, Investopedia, Kiplinger, and several others in both the U.S. and Canada. He particularly enjoys creating model portfolios that stand the test of time. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the time of this writing Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.