Last year stands out as the year the world changed. A new age of terrorism and the so-called war on terror had arrived. Companies everywhere were shaken. At the same time, the collapse of Enron and other high-profile US bankruptcies Global Crossing and Kmart put company reporting under the spotlight.
At home, dealing with a global economic slowdown became a real challenge for companies. Reporting was an issue here too, with the collapse and subsequent inquiries into Regal Treasury Bank and LeisureNet. Government has loudly signalled its intention to boot SA's disclosure standards into order. The release of the second King Report on Corporate Governance set new standards for boardrooms - standards that will still take some time to fundamentally change the way companies are run.
The dramatic collapse of the rand last year also had a major impact on SA companies, propelling resources and rand-hedge stocks up the rankings and making life difficult for financials and SA-focused companies.
"In an open economy, like SA's, the analysis of economic performance cannot be restricted to domestic conditions . We are part of a global economic community that finds itself on a weaker economic footing," says Standard Bank economist Njabulo Sithebe.
In that context, there was still room for corporate excellence. Top Companies is a celebration of that excellence - more than ever before. The 20 companies we have selected meet all the requirements of the accolade.
But Top Companies also provides the tools for comparison, putting SA's 600-odd listed companies on an equal footing to discover who is best, biggest, and occasionally worst. No other publication does as comprehensive an analysis of all of the financial data published by companies.
The University of Pretoria's Bureau of Financial Analysis collates the data from annual reports received before February 28. The BFA ensures that accounting anomalies are removed to make comparisons meaningful. (See the definitions page. )
The resulting tables show how SA's companies are dealing with the many challenges facing them. Our top company shows how the challenges can be met. Other tables here, including auditors' and attorneys' client lists compiled by I-Net Bridge, also show top companies in professional services, which are not listed.
But because SA is becoming part of a global economy, this year we also look at stories about the world's giants. We profile the dramatic turnaround of car maker Nissan under CEO Carlos Ghosn, and look at GlaxoSmithKline battling the choppy pharmaceutical market while managing a megamerger.