Market heavyweights around the globe

Fri Nov 9, 2012 2:37am EST

LONDON, Nov 9 - In 1953, when the Senate Armed Services Committee asked Charles Wilson if he could ever make a decision that might hurt the interests of General Motors, Wilson shot back that he could but that it was hard to imagine such a scenario "because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa."

Wilson, who had been president of General Motors, was duly named Secretary of Defense.

These days, Apple is probably America's most potent corporate symbol, even if it does not dominate in the way GM did in the 1950s. Here's a look at some other past and present heavyweights from around the globe:

Nokia in Finland

The former pulp mill which grew into the world's largest cellphone manufacturer generated almost half Finland's GDP growth in 2000. In recent years its profits have collapsed as it has struggled against rivals in the smartphone race.

Samsung in South Korea

Author Park Hyun Goon calls South Korea the "Republic of Samsung". The world's top technology firm by revenue, Samsung propels the South Korean economy. Revenue at Samsung Electronics alone equates to about 10 percent of the country's GDP.

Sony in Japan

Sony has been an emblem both of Japan's post-war rebirth and its post-bubble demise. Founded in 1948 as Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering, Sony helped power Japan's recovery by making transistor radios and magnetic tape recorders.

Renamed Sony Corp. in 1958, it expanded into entertainment and pioneered CD players and game systems. More recently, though, it has struggled to keep up with more innovative rivals.

BP in Britain

BP started out as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in the first decade of the 20th century. The British Petroleum brand was originally created by a German firm to market its products in the UK, according to BP's website. The British government seized that company's assets in World War One and British Petroleum adopted the name in 1954, switching more recently to simply BP.

At the beginning of 2010 BP was Britain's biggest company by market capitalization. But an accident that April on the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers, spilled millions of barrels of oil into the ocean, and knocked the firm off its perch.

Ikea in Sweden

IKEA Group, which owns most of the Scandinavian furniture retailer, had sales of about $35 billion in the fiscal year to end of August, or 7 percent of Sweden's GDP.

The brand's Swedish image was reinforced by plentiful jars of pickled herring on sale in its stores as it expanded through Europe in the 1980s. But its complex corporate and ownership structure is mostly Netherlands-based and controlled by a couple of Dutch- and Liechtenstein-based foundations.

(With reporting by Ritsuko Ando in Helsinki, Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Sophie Walker, Tom Bergin, Himanshu Ojha, Richard Woods and Andrew Callus in London; Edited by Sophie Walker and Sara Ledwith)