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The Businesses that boomed in 2020

2 December 2020 7:15 PM
Digital technology

One of the worst years this century did not stop some industries from having their best year yet.

2020 was supposed to be the year that offered the best view of the future, a 2020 view. Turns out it was not such a good view.

Despite it being one of the worst years of the century some businesses will end the year with it being one of their best.

Like most disruption, it never affects everyone the same way, changes harm some and benefits others.

The global changes that will flow from the pandemic will see some industries struggle to recover while others will never look back, this is a short list of some that were the ones that beat the pandemic by being ready to grow when the market changed.

Working from Home

The long debates about where office workers are most productive were simplified when anyone who could work from home was forced to do so.

For the suppliers of the equipment needed to the fibre companies supplying homes to the software makers that allowed you to work via VPN all had a good year.

The communication software makers boomed with Zoom being the brand name that may have become the most mentioned pandemic-related brand. Zoom founder Eric Yuan’s wealth grew by $16 billion this year thanks to the share price growth.

Even as people began to drift back to offices as the lockdowns eased, the second wave will compel companies to send staff home once again.

Some novel options included a virtual commute by Microsoft Teams to set aside a part of the start and end of the day to separate your work time from your home time. Some time at the beginning of the day for goal setting and some time at the end of the day to put it all behind you with some meditation exercises. Mental health apps that were starting to address the issues of our digital lifestyles got a big lift as the lockdowns kicked in and dragged on. Bill Gates added $20 billion thanks to Microsoft’s share increase.

While the need to have staff return will apply for many sectors, the growth sectors for 2020 also relied on staff that could work from home. That shift will make work from home a more defined part of the workforce and may see shifts to where people choose to live.

Local manufacturing

After years of moving everything to manufacturing hubs, mostly China, the world learned that in a pinch you can’t get your products to market.

Rather than nationalistic reasons, the value of keeping some key manufacturing capacity local is a big lesson for many economies.

I wonder if this decade will see the rise of the local specialist manufacturer that focuses on smaller runs and quicker turnaround times. It is unlikely that China and India will not remain the bulk manufacturing centres but with innovation in 3D printing and robotics, we may see machines that are pricey but very flexible become the new standard for those that are looking for responsible consumption. A fashion brand in the Netherlands sells its products with no discounts and encourages their customers to buy less often. Once a year though, the store content is replaced by the garments of its customers that wish to sell it. The proceeds are returned as vouchers for customers to spend on new garments.

Assuming you could keep your supply chains going and you had an online sales option and a delivery service provider then you had a very good 2020.

Ecommerce providers tipped the trust issues many may have had about online shopping. The shift that was initiated in Asia after the Sars outbreak in 2003 was replicated around the globe as people either chose or were not able to go shopping.

The delivery and logistics companies that had been working to drive demand found themselves seriously stretched. The industry will need to manage the sustainability of its staffing payments, but I think it is fair that after the spike, deliveries will remain higher than before the pandemic.

The runaway winner being Jeff Bezos, who added an incredible $90 billion to his fortune since March thanks again to the share price increase in Amazon. He has donated $125 million to food security programs which is incredible but only a fraction of what he made.

He is not alone other retailers like the Waltons added over $10 billion while PC makers like Michael Dell are up $16 billion.

The Stock Market

What may have created a depression to rival the one in the last century, turned into an impressive bull run.

Share prices made many billionaires multi-billionaires. Those who still had money to invest or used the freely available money to do so may be smiling now, but the reckoning may still be coming because the share price may have skyrocketed but the profits could not amid a massive downturn.

One of the biggest winners this year was the founder of Quicken loans who listed his company in August increasing his fortune from $6 billion to $49 billion.


For those unsure if the share prices may hold, there was always the cryptocurrencies with the original Bitcoin rising again to the levels it reached in 2017. It has doubled in price since September with a Bitcoin currently worth about R290 000.


No surprises that medical companies would do well during a pandemic. From protective equipment to sanitisers to the tools like thermometers, billions were spent on medical supplies. For testing laboratories the millions of tests that have been needed this year will be a huge increase in business.

The biggest winners though may be the companies that can develop and distribute an effective vaccine. Three were already ready for approval just 10 months after the research began and in early December Pfizer/Biontech was the first to get approval for use in the UK.

Social Networks

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey increased his wealth by $7 billion although the real growth came from the payment company Square that he co-founded. While Mark Zuckerberg at just 36 years old is now worth over $100 billion after adding $46 billion during the pandemic.

The shift to online sales was a major driver for the ad revenue companies, but they also had a good year for the degree that were able to mitigate the amount of bad information that was being spread about the virus and if that was not enough managed to make it through the US elections with the largest challenge to free and fair elections being the US President himself.

Streaming entertainment

We may not have watched any new movies in cinemas for most of the year but we sure have watched a lot more videos than in any other year. Netflix, Apple, Disney, HBO, DStv in fact any streaming provider with the exception of Quibi had a very busy 2020. Quibi was the biggest loser spending billions to compete with established rivals like Netflix and while quite innovative simply could not hold a candle to just how well the rest were doing especially with subscribers.

TV shows like the Queen's Gambit set new records for number of people watching a series which was in part thanks to the quality of the show and in part just how badly we all needed to watch something with a really great ending.


The person that achieved more this year on multiple fronts that anyone else must be Elon Musk. His worth has increased $68 billion for the most part thanks to Tesla having been added to the S&P 500. Despite the initial disruption to Tesla production he has managed to recover some lost ground even as he was criticised for putting his staff at risk. The shift to electric is now assured as multiple governments commit to phasing out fossil fuels for transport in the next decade. Tesla’s dominance is not only the fact that his cars are electric, the driving software is unrivalled and his potential for growth into commercial vehicles and bakkies is going to keep competitors behind him for a while.

The low running costs and increased safety measures on the cars suggest he will be able to add revenues from insurance premiums too, all adding to the company cash flow.

Then he set new records in space flight with a booster recently completing its 7th successful take-off and landing. He has sent a full crew to the International Space Station and is due to test his Starship. That program to get mankind to Mars may still be some years away, but he plans to challenge long haul travel with 30 mins flights connection any two major cities on the planet.

The revenue to fund the space program would be Starlink, the satellite internet network that is currently in beta testing and has grown from a few dozen satellites to almost 1 000 just in 2020.

Lessons from Covid-19

Things change. Normally at a pace that we can anticipate and ideally we are able to adapt. Sometimes the change is so rapid, that only those that had been preparing for the change are ready to respond.

We knew a pandemic was a reality waiting to happen, but many hoped they would have more time to prepare, that it would not be that bad or that we would be okay anyway.

Some businesses will survive, many will not. Some will never be the same and for the select few they will not look back, They anticipated the change, prepared for it, they may not have known when it would come but they were able to respond when it did.

There will be change again, the time your business spends preparing for it could decide if you will be one of the new winners.

The changes in personal fortunes quoted in this article come from a longer article by USA Today with the values accurate at October 2020.

Image credit: © fotoquique/

2 December 2020 7:15 PM
Digital technology

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