We live in an era where fewer than 10% of the world's public companies account for more than 80% of all profits.

These are the world’s largest corporations, compiled by market capitalization (the total market value of a company's outstanding shares).

 A virtually new world
Image: The Economist

Ten years ago, banks and energy companies dominated the top ten. Today, it’s technology companies, with US computer company Apple in the number one spot.

10. China Mobile

HQ: China
Age of company: 20 years
Employees: 438,645

China Mobile says it has the world's largest mobile network and the biggest mobile customer base. It is the leading telecommunications services provider in mainland China and in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

9. General Electric
HQ: United States

Age of company: 139 years

No of employees: 333,000

GE traces its beginnings to Thomas Edison, who established the Edison Electric Light Company in 1878. GE is the only company listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Index that was also included in the original index in 1896. Showing that diversity is the way to keep a company going, GE is now calls itself the world’s Digital Industrial Company.

8. Johnson and Johnson
HQ: US

Age of company: 131 years

No of employees: 128,000

One of the larger companies on the list, Johnson and Johnson is a multinational manufacturer of pharmaceutical goods.

7. Facebook

HQ: US

Age of company: 13 years

No of employees: 15,724

Facebook was founded in 2004 after a college experiment. In September 2016 it had 1.79 billion daily active users, approximately 85% of whom were outside the US and Canada.

6. Amazon

HQ: US

Age of company: 22 years

No of employees: 222,400

Amazon has enjoyed a meteoric rise since it was founded in a garage in 1995. It started as an online bookshop, but now delivers everything from tea bags to shoes. Last year, when Amazon's site went down for 49 minutes, the company missed out on estimated sales of $5.7 million.

5. Exxon Mobil

HQ: US

Age of company: 135 years

No of employees: 73,500

The world’s largest oil and gas company has dropped from number one last year to number five. The company was formed in 1999 when two giants, Exxon and Mobil, merged their businesses.

4. Berkshire Hathaway

HQ: US

Age of company: 128 years

No of employees: 360,000.

The largest company on the list not involved in technology has its origins as far back as 1888 as a textile company. It is now a holding company with interests a wide variety of sectors including utilities, railroads and insurance companies. It is part owned by well-known investor Warren Buffet.

3. Microsoft

HQ: US

Age of company: 42 years

No of employees: 114,000

Apple's most famous rival Microsoft also started in a garage, where Bill Gates and Paul Allen put together their first computer. Microsoft was officially founded in 1975, a year earlier than Apple.

2. Alphabet

HQ: US

Age of company: 2 years

No of employees: 69,953

Alphabet has a much more famous subsidiary, Google. Alphabet, founded in 2015 by the same people who started Google, is a collection of companies with interests in many sectors including medical research and wearable technology

1. Apple

HQ: US

Age of company: 41 years

Number of employees: 66,000

The first Apple computer was built in Steve Jobs’ parents’ garage. Apple has an estimated net worth of $605 billion, and is often called the world's most valuable company. In 2016, however, it had to contend with falling sales of the iPhone.

Is bigger better?

Globalization is largely responsible for companies being able to grow to such a size. But does bigger mean better?

On the plus side, companies with this kind of reach can transform our lives. Apple’s iPhone led the word into the era of the smartphone with apps that touch our lives in almost any way you can imagine. Smartphones made by Apple and other tech companies are now central to our lives.

Many of these large companies are investing heavily in research that could help us improve our lives, such as products that keep us healthy. Many of the services they provide (Facebook and the search engine Google, for example) are free to use.

They also invest in solutions to problems all over the world. Facebook's Aquila aims to provide internet access to millions, while Johnson and Johnson poured millions into helping formulate the Ebola vaccine. It also supported health-worker training on infection control and prevention in African countries where Ebola was prevalent.

On the negative side, large multinational corporations have generated negative headlines in relation to their tax-reduction strategies.