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A look back at 25 years of the Globe 100

Changing list reflects the evolution of Massachusetts business in a fast-moving era

Victor Tyler was chief executive of Concord Computing, which used computers to verify checks cashed at supermarkets. The company was at the top of the first Globe 100 in 1989. It’s now a unit of First Data Corp.

Globe File

Victor Tyler was chief executive of Concord Computing, which used computers to verify checks cashed at supermarkets. The company was at the top of the first Globe 100 in 1989. It’s now a unit of First Data Corp.

Twenty-five years ago, George H.W. Bush was president, Michael S. Dukakis was governor, the Berlin Wall was dismantled, and Concord Computing Corp., a firm using computers to authorize checks cashed at supermarkets, was perched atop the first Globe 100.

Concord Computing has long since been rolled into an enterprise acquired by payment-processing giant First Data Corp. But the Globe 100 itself endured, becoming a unique window into the changing world of business in Massachusetts over a quarter century. Year by year, it chronicled the shifting dominance of local industries and emergence of promising new ventures. It also documented the staying power of some of the state’s most successful companies.

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A total of 497 businesses have made at least one appearance on a Globe 100 list. But just four companies earned a spot on every one of the 25 annual rankings — the ultimate mark of consistent performance. That distinction is shared by retailer TJX Cos., money manager Eaton Vance Corp., defense contractor Raytheon Co., and workwear provider Unifirst Corp.

The Globe 100 Hall of Fame — a special 25th anniversary list — recognizes the very best aggregate performances of the past quarter-century. TJX emerged as the top-ranked company among the Hall of Fame’s 25 companies, followed by State Street Corp. and Eaton Vance.

TJX topped the Hall of Fame rankings thanks to its unbroken record of annual appearances and a series of strong individual performances. The retailer, ranked second on this year’s list, appeared among the top 10 of a dozen Globe 100s and earned the number one spot twice.

Of course, many of the names that once appeared on a Globe 100 list have since disappeared. A raft of companies on the original list — Lotus Development Corp., Stride Rite Corp., Bank of New England Corp., and Keane Inc., among others — have been merged, snapped up, or shut down as business conditions shifted.

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But the Globe 100 continues to reflect the best of Massachusetts business, the publicly traded companies that have emerged and prospered in a new commercial era that is faster moving, more technology-driven, and less forgiving.

Globe Staff/File 1992

Reebok was the top Globe 100 company under CEO Paul Fireman in 1992, but like other big names in local business, it has since been acquired.

Many companies on this year’s list, from TripAdvisor LLC to Nuance Communications Inc. to Cubist Pharmaceuticals Inc., weren’t even around in 1989. Many of their up-and-coming employees may be too young to remember a time when giants named Lotus, Polaroid Corp., and Bank of Boston Corp. dominated their industries.

‘The only real asset we have is the Yankee brain.’

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“It’s a natural evolution of this organic beast called business,” said Ken Freeman, a former private equity executive who is dean of Boston University’s School of Management. “It seems that what happens here mirrors what happens with the evolution of technology.”

Changing technologies upended many of the names that graced the Globe 100 in its first decade. Digital Equipment Corp., king of microcomputing, was blindsided by the rise of the personal computer. Polaroid, which popularized the instant camera, failed to adapt to digital photography. But developments in Massachusetts labs, aided by a doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget in the late 1990s, helped propel a new crop of life sciences companies such as Biogen Idec Inc. and Anika Therapeutics Inc.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the field of life sciences, and that came out of the field of research,” said former Genzyme Corp. chief executive Henri A. Termeer, who sold his biotechnology company to French drug maker Sanofi SA in 2011.

The companies on this year’s list, no matter how nimble and financially strong, will surely confront technological changes that will force them to adapt in the future.

“Here’s a prediction: The companies on your list this year ain’t going to be on your list 25 years from now,” said Howard Anderson, business professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge.

Anderson said the Bay State’s universities have attracted engineering brains and sophisticated investors who capitalized on the state’s technology infrastructure and entrepreneurial culture. Together, they have built the kinds of companies that disrupt established industries but often miss the next wave of change.

Major drivers of local business activity are innovation and the ability to overcome adversity, Anderson suggested. “The only real asset we have is the Yankee brain,” he said. “Boston is full of people smart enough to get into school here but not smart enough to leave town.”

While that brainpower sparked innovative start-ups, it has also been harnessed to keep established companies on the cutting edge — often a more challenging task. Raytheon, which got its start building radio tubes and radar, embraced the defense electronics technologies that became the fastest growing part of the Pentagon’s budget. Analog Devices Inc., which initially made an amplifier for testing equipment, moved on to semiconductors and digital signal processors to capitalize on the personal computer boom.

But survival as an independent public company over many years depends on more than sheer business performance. Industry consolidation, as well as the ups and downs of individual stocks, can make businesses vulnerable. Fifteen independent banks earned spots on the original Globe 100, but just two of them exist today. Five of the Globe 100 Hall of Fame businesses are no longer independent companies today.

To achieve staying power, “you have to get to the point where you have a certain diversification and a certain value that allows you to be independent,” said Termeer, the former Genzyme chief.

His old company, which appeared on the Globe 100 eight times, was acquired in 2011. But its new owner, Sanofi, continues to expand in Massachusetts, betting the culture embodied by the Globe 100 will rub off on outsiders that join the party.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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