In a very stressful year, the 33rd annual Fortune Global 500 list tells a cheerful story. Our annual ranking of the world’s biggest companies posted powerful numbers: Revenue for the group was up 19% year over year, and profits hit an all-time high of $3.1 trillion.
Here’s the catch: Those numbers reflect financials from 2021, when the world was starting to bounce back from COVID-19. This year has brought a new truckload of challenges, and nobody’s celebrating. A recent Fortune and Deloitte survey of CEOs found that 67% are “pessimistic” or “very pessimistic” about prospects for the global economy over the next 12 months. That’s up from just 12% in January.
European business leaders have been feeling the pain longer than most. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is raging in their backyard, and they were hurting long before their U.S. and Asian peers.
In her soon-to-be-published feature, Fortune’s Vivienne Walt outlines the unprecedented conditions world leaders are navigating. “Soaring post-COVID demand has collided with skyrocketing fuel prices and transportation costs to create shortages and bottlenecks everywhere along the chain of global trade,” she writes. “And all of that has been exacerbated by the grow-ing strain of the Ukraine war—Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II.”
Other CEOs have had to manage tricky social and legal pressures. In a Fortune exclusive by Geoff Colvin, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski describes the monthslong, heavily scrutinized decision-making process that led the restaurant giant to shut down all 853 of its stores in Russia. The move impacted 62,000 employees and essentially wiped away 7% of global revenue overnight. Kempczinski explains how he made the call.
For businesses of every size, the real test will be who can survive and thrive in tough conditions like these, especially if—or when—a recession of unknown length and depth settles in. Some, like the world’s largest commodity traders, will likely keep finding ways to record profits. Others will evaporate, as many Web3 startups have done in the “crypto winter.” Check out our cover story on crypto exchange FTX and its billionaire creator, Sam Bankman-Fried. Despite the downturn, he hopes to be the industry’s white knight. In the spirit of Warren Buffett (who’s more than 60 years his senior), he’s being greedy when others are fearful.
I’d also like to introduce you to a new section of the magazine that is historic for us: Fortune Well.
We firmly believe that home and work life are closely connected. If you’re not successful in navigating your health, your well-being, and your relationships, you won’t be a successful leader either. Fortune Well, helmed by editor Jennifer Fields, brings you the best tips for staying healthy and active, with new content posting continually at fortune.com/well. In a version of a story that appeared in this issue, our Well team digs into how companies are grappling with the challenges of long COVID.
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A version of this article appears in the August/September 2022 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Survival of the fittest.”
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