Who Is Corporate America's Evil Empire?

Last Updated Jan 20, 2009 3:59 PM EST

iphone-jobs.jpgNo, I'm not talking about the former Soviet Union, Star Wars, Al Qaeda, the Bush administration, or the New York Yankees. I'm talking about big business, corporate America. You know, Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller, U.S. Steel and J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, that sort of thing.

There's always been an evil empire - an aggressive, oppressive, predatory, monopolistic company - which everyone loved to hate. In the 70s and into the 80s, there were two evil empires: AT&T and IBM. That is until U.S. antitrust litigation ended both monopolies, just as the Supreme Court put the kibosh on Standard Oil in 1911.

Then the baton passed to Bill Gates's Microsoft and Andy Grove's Intel, collectively known as the Wintel duopoly. The odd couple owned much of the personal computer's intellectual property, and therefore, its profits. Both companies have been sued by government agencies for abuse of monopoly power, but only Microsoft lost.

When networking became prevalent in the 90s, Cisco, under John Chambers, began gobbling up companies at a staggering rate. At the height of the dot-com boom, Cisco was the most valuable company in the world, with a market cap over $500 billion.

But since the dot-com bubble burst, it's been hard to find a new evil empire:

  • Microsoft seems considerably less predatory since its bout with the Justice Department and with Steve Ballmer in charge. And Intel has proved to be vulnerable to AMD, at least when it executes.
  • Big Blue is now primarily a service and consulting company - hardly qualifies as an evil empire.
  • AT&T has remergered itself back to some semblance of its former size and power, but Verizon's there to keep it honest. Definitely nothing to be scared of.
  • The big three automakers should be called the little whiny three automakers. They're finished.
  • What's left of the Wall Street investment banks are just a shadow of their former selves.
  • GE used to have the biggest market cap in the U.S., but a host of companies are bigger now. Besides the oil giants and Microsoft there's Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. GE seems to be on a downward slide.
  • How about Google? It generates tons of cash, is growing like a weed, and there's talk about Google as Big Brother. Still, I think it's too young to be evil. And Google's motto says it isn't.
  • Apple as the new evil empire is all over the blogosphere. If control of your favorite gadgets qualifies, sure. But the media loves Apple, although that could change without Steve Jobs.
  • Wal-Mart? One of the world's largest corporations by revenue (roughly $400 billion in 2008), with 2.1 million employees and a market cap of $200 billion. Competition squashing, price undercutting, low-wage employment Wal-Mart. Every week, a third of America goes to Wal-Mart. But does that constitute evil?
  • Big Oil? Exxon-Mobil may be the closest thing we've got to an evil empire these days. $400 billion market cap, $70 billion in cash, will likely top $500 billion in revenue and $45 billion in net income in 2008. At $147 a barrel, definitely. But now? I just don't know.
That's all I can think of. For me, it's down to Exxon-Mobil and Wal-Mart, although Google could get there someday. In any case, it's official: technology has lost its evilness, at least for now.

But that's just me. Who do you think is corporate America's evil empire?

[Image courtesy of CNET news.com]