Helena Lyng Blak
7 weeks ago

5 businesses that rose from the (almost) dead

These companies have demonstrated a real knack for making a comeback.
Two Lego minifigures - one with smirk and one happy.
Ekaterina_Minaeva / Shutterstock.com

This Easter, we're opening the not-so-dusty, mostly digital books of recent history to look back at some of the most impressive corporate returns, resurrections, and recoveries.

5. LEGO

In the 1990s, the Danish company was struggling, posting its first-ever loss in 1998. According to CEO Today Magazine, the toymaker was, at the time, unintentionally selling its products for less than their production costs.

Further threatened by technological advancements that made gaming consoles the newest, hottest toys and entertainment devices for kids, LEGO’s sales were plummeting.

However, in the 2000s, LEGO turned things around. Surely aided by its partnerships, creating tie-in LEGO sets for big franchises such as Indiana Jones and Star Wars, which the company started doing around the Millennium, what really began making a difference was Jørgen Vig Knudstorp stepping in as chief executive in 2004.

“We needed to build a mindset where nonperformance wasn’t accepted,” Mr. Knudstorp told The New York Times in 2009.

Along with a new attitude, under Knudstorp, the company also diversified its products, creating successful video games, TV shows, and movies.

Fast-forwarding to today, LEGO continues to thrive. According to current CEO Niels Christian, 2023 was the most challenging toy market in more than 15 years, yet LEGO managed to achieve a 2% growth compared to 2022.

4. Chicago Cubs

In October 2009, the baseball team Chicago Cubs filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, preceding their sale to the Ricketts family, who made their fortunes as stockbrokers.

The Ricketts bought the Cubs in a $845 million deal.

Seven years later, in 2016, the Cubs won their first World Series in more than a century.

Today, the franchise is estimated to be worth about $4.1 billion.

3. Marvel Entertainment

In the early to mid-1990s, Marvel Entertainment, one of the world’s biggest publishers of comic books, was struggling. The company fell victim to “a series of bursting financial bubbles and questionable business deals,” writes India Times, and saw their shares slide.

In 1995, the company reported its first annual loss.

By 1996, the company filed for bankruptcy. Then-company head Ron Perelman would later be accused of diverting $553.5 million in notes away from Marvel to some of his other companies leading up to the bankruptcy.

In the following years, a power struggle unfolded between Perelman, so-called “corporate raider” Carl Icahn, and the rest of the shareholders.

But ultimately, in 2009, Marvel was bought by and folded into the Walt Disney Company in a $4 billion deal, spurring the cinematic superhero craze of the next decade.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe alone has since grossed $32.3 billion.

2. General Motors

General Motors nearly tops our list, having (sort of) survived not just one, but two of the greatest recessions of modern history.

In 2009, GM, one of the largest car manufacturers in the world, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a consequence of the Great Recession and its massive debts.

Due to the massive amounts of jobs generated by GM and its peer Chrysler, especially in areas already under a lot of pressure following the financial crisis, the US decided to spend roughly $50 billion bailing out the company, saving 1.5 million American jobs in the process.

What followed was a radical restructuring and new management. In 2018, Business Insider, called the company “one of the world's best-run car companies,” having “one of the best C-suites in all of business.”

1. Apple

In the 1980s, a power struggle within the blossoming tech company led to the departure of Steve Jobs. He would spend the next 12 years as founder and CEO of the company NeXT, which, among other things, funded visual effects development at Lucasfilm, leading to the creation of Pixar (both, like Marvel, would later be acquired by Disney).

Meanwhile, Apple began to struggle, consistently outdone by competitor Microsoft, delivering cheaper products to compete, only ending up cannibalizing themselves.

Apple was reportedly just weeks away from bankruptcy when its board decided to buy NeXT and in the process rehire Steve Jobs as advisor.

Only four months after Apple’s acquisition of NeXT was finalized, Jobs managed a coup and was first named interim CEO, and then later, became the permanent CEO of Apple.

Around the same time, Microsoft, then headed by Bill Gates, invested $150 million in Apple. The company had already sold its entire stake in the company by 2003, but the investment was a much-needed boost during a critical time.

At the ‘97 Macworld Expo, Jobs is said to have said, “If we want to move forward and see Apple healthy and prospering again, we have to let go of a few things here. We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.”

In the new Millennium, Apple became one of the most influential companies in the world.

Lately, however, the iPhone maker has been facing challenges, seeing its stock drop roughly 7% year to date, and running into antitrust problems.

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