Whether it’s building a whole city or putting up a modest bungalow, the chances are that quite a few of these companies will be there in the background. It’s time you knew your Holcim from your Asahi
Asahi Glass Company
Whether it’s blazing heat or monsoon rains, the chances are that as you gaze outside and dream of being there, the office windows you look through are made by Tokyo-based Asahi Glass. It has an annual turnover of €3.4bn. The company was founded in 1907 by Toshiya Iwasaki, whose father was a president of Mitsubishi.
- Saint-Gobain Glass
Mittal Steel and Arcelor signed their merger deal in June 2006, making it the world’s biggest steel producer. The following year it had an annual turnover of €67.3bn. The CEO is Lakshmi Mittal, the world’s fourth richest man, who is from a humble Indian family – although he now lives in London’s biggest house.
- Nippon Steel
- JFE Steel Corp
China may be the world’s largest cement producer (and user), but the biggest company comes from the concrete jungle of, er, Switzerland. Founded in 1912 in the Swiss village of Holderbank (and that’s what the firm called itself until 2001), the company now employs over 90,000 people in 70 countries.
Imagine the scene: a muddy Californian field, 1904. Seeing tractors getting stuck, one Benjamin Holt has an idea: add block-linked treads to the wheels. For Caterpillar, the rest is history. Its yellow machines are now seen from Beijing to Bombay and turnover is €18bn per annum. Where there’s muck there’s brass.
Elisha Graves Otis launched his first lift (then known as an ascending room) in the 1854 at the World Trade Fair. Ever since then the company has been giving people a lift up at such diverse places as the Empire State Building and the Kremlin. Last year it had gross sales of €7.64bn.
Liebherr, maker of some of the world’s biggest cranes, was founded in 1949 in Switzerland by Hans Liebherr. Today, despite expanding to employ 26,000 people, it is still owned by the family. Thanks to the forests of cranes in the Gulf, they are doing just fine.
07 Air conditioning
When the Vatican needed to install an air-regulating system in the Sistine Chapel, it turned to this US manufacturer. Initially called “artificial weather” by its inventor Willis Carrier, air conditioning has been the company’s speciality since 1902 and today it sells €9.3bn of equipment a year.
The largest construction company in the world. It was founded in France in 1899 by Alexandre Giros and Louis Loucher who went on to become a prominent French politician who played a key role after the First World War agreeing German reparations. Annual turnover is €13.6bn.
- Grupo ASC
This is a brand happy to come up against a brick wall. This 189-year-old Viennese company has gone from local brick-maker to the industry’s leading manufacturer (and number two for clay roof tiles). In 2007 it grossed €1.8bn in brick sales. Growth markets include the Balkans, Poland and the Ukraine.
Electrical and fibre-optic cables account for 30 per cent of this Paris-based firm’s €7.4bn annual turnover. In April, Nexans claimed two world records: the longest cable with the highest voltage. The firm traces its roots back to 1897 and the creation of the Société Française des Câbles in Lyon.