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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Business / Globe 100
Razor blades make the cut in new era

By Chris Reidy, Globe Staff, 5/16/2000

999 may have been the year of Nasdaq and the new economy, but some of the largest companies in Massachusetts still make razor blades and sell paper clips, clothing, and snow tires.

When measured by revenue, the biggest companies in the commonwealth include Gillette Co., Staples Inc., TJX Cos., and BJ's Wholesale Club Inc.

With FleetBoston Financial Corp., State Street Corp., and Allmerica Financial Corp., the financial services industry is also well represented in the top 10 of the Sales 100, a ranking of publicly traded companies in Massachusetts by 1999 revenue.

On the Sales 100, Raytheon Co. and EMC Corp. led the way for high-tech companies. But with mergers and acquisitions thinning out the ranks of local banks and big computer companies, old-fashioned retailers grabbed some top spots on the list.

It may not stay that way for long, though, given the rapid growth of some dot-com firms.

Of all the companies on the Sales 100, CMGI Inc. of Andover, an Internet company that also invests in other dot-coms, saw the biggest sales growth last year. Calendar year 1999 sales rose nearly 213 percent, to $376.49 million. Given Wall Street's recent disenchantment with high-tech stocks, it will be interesting to see if CMGI can sustain its revenue momentum.

For much of the early 1990s, the local company with the most revenue was Digital Equipment Corp. But after Digital was acquired by Compaq Computer Corp. of Texas, top honors went to Lexington-based Raytheon.

With revenue up a little to $20.04 billion, Raytheon was again first in sales.

(Raytheon, which calculates its revenue a bit differently than as standardized in the Globe's research database, considers its 1999 revenue to be $19.8 billion, up 2 percent.)

But 1999 was not a good year for the defense contractor. As the industry consolidates, Raytheon has had its problems. In past years, acquisitions helped propel Raytheon to the top of the Sales 100, but the company has announced plans to shed its construction unit, which accounted for about $2.7 billion in 1999 sales.

Fleet Financial completed its acquisition of BankBoston Corp. only in October, and its revenue growth came mostly from strong momentum in its core businesses.

Fleet's 1999 revenue rose about 18 percent to $12.78 billion. (Again, due to a difference in the method of calculation, Fleet puts its 1999 revenue at $13.75 billion. The Globe database subtracted a $933 million credit loss provision to arrive at the lower number.)

Hurt by currency exchange rates in some overseas markets, Boston-based Gillette saw sales decline 1.6 percent in 1999, to $9.9 billion. Revenue could drop further as Gillette explores the possibility of selling some underperforming product lines, such as home appliances and stationery brands. On the bright side, the Mach3 three-bladed razor continued to wow male shavers. And a Mach3-like product for women is expected shortly.

Once again, Staples, of Framingham, showed some of the strongest annual growth in sales for a company ranked in the top 10 of the Sales 100. Staples sells office supplies through catalogs and Web sites as well as at more than 1,100 superstores. Sales rose 25.5 percent, to $8.94 billion.

TJX, also of Framingham, which operates such off-price retail chains as T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, had another solid year; in 1999, sales rose 10.6 percent, to $8.8 billion. With a new chief executive, TJX has hinted it's on the prowl for acquisitions.

EMC Corp., a perennial strong performer in Globe 100 surveys, grew nearly as quickly as Staples. The Hopkinton-based maker of computer storage products had $6.7 billion in revenue, a gain of nearly 24 percent.

Partly because one of its nuclear plants resumed operations after a long outage and partly because of a strong performance at subsidiary Select Energy Inc., West Springfield-based Northeast Utilities had $4.47 billion in revenue, a 19 percent gain. Because it recently agreed to be acquired by New York's Consolidated Edison Inc., this may be Northeast Utilities' last year on the Sales 100 list.

New stores and added gas station facilities partly explain why 1999 was a big year for BJ's Wholesale Club, of Natick. Sales were $4.2 billion, a gain of 18.4 percent.

A trillion here, a trillion there - it all adds up for State Street Corp., which has successfully evolved from an old-fashioned bank to a Boston-based powerhouse that specializes in record keeping and asset custody for the global investment industry. With $6.2 trillion worth of assets in custody, State Street saw its own revenue rise over 21 percent, to $3.3 billion, getting a small boost from the sale of its commercial banking business.

1999 also smiled on Allmerica Financial, a Worcester insurance company that sells retirement savings products, too. Because some of these products are linked to the stock market, which boomed last year, Allmerica saw sales rise.

Meanwhile, claims from the company's auto insurance customers dropped. As a result, net operating income, a key measure of an insurance company's performance, rose to $281 million, from $213 million in 1998. Sales were up 3.67 percent to $3.14 billion.


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