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Why We Love to Admire Tech Companies

Businessmen clapping in meetingBusinessmen clapping in meeting
Businessmen clapping in meetingTom Merton — Getty Images/Caiaimage

Glance for even a moment at Fortune’s new list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, and the sector takeaway is clear: Five of the top 10 companies are in the technology industry.

What is it that people—we survey 3,800 executives, analysts, experts, and the like—so admire about a cohort led, in this order, by Apple (AAPL), Amazon.com (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), Facebook (FB), and Microsoft (MSFT)? Given that the combined market capitalization of this Fantastic Five exceeds $2.3 trillion, I suspect businesspeople on the outside looking in simply admire them for the wealth they’ve created, the profits they’ve generated, and the people they employ.

But it’s not only about money. Each of these companies has created something new, which is practically the Holy Grail of business.

Apple has defined the evolution of consumer computing for three decades, if you consider the phone in your pocket to be a computer, which you should. Amazon conjured up a new business model for retailing. Google/Alphabet changed advertising forever—and has been using its cash in creative ways. Facebook created a whole new form of publishing, even as it refuses to call itself a media company. And Microsoft, the software monopolist of another era, has proved nimble at recreating itself at a scale, a feat almost no company can replicate.

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What about the other five companies on our top ten? If all companies are technology companies today, are they?

Entertainment giant Disney (DIS) has paid a ton of attention to tech, whether through its aggressive digital content strategy or the wristbands in its theme parks. General Electric (GE) has embraced sensors as the central tool of its next industrial revolution. Starbucks (SBUX) is a first-rate technological dabbler. As for Southwest @southwest ai(LUV), it certainly uses technology as all modern logistics companies must. But it’s really just a really good—and admirable—airline. Then there is Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A), its recent stake in Apple notwithstanding, which just isn’t a tech company in any way. Call Berkshire the exception to the rule. That’s kind of admirable too.

Have a great weekend.