Even the most turmoil-tested modern business executive would agree that 2011 was a painful year for the global economy. Oil prices soared amid fears of a shooting war in the Persian Gulf over Iran's nuclear program. In March, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered major damage after an earthquake and tsunami disabled its cooling systems, disrupting global supply chains for everything from automobiles to silicon wafers.
Crop failures around the world drove commodity prices to record heights. Food prices soared across Asia and Latin America, pushing local governments to cool their economies in a bid to head off social unrest. In Europe a festering bank crisis inflicted pain on consumers across the continent, drove a number of European companies off the Global 500, and put the future of European integration in doubt.
The Global 500 list is most useful, at the end of the day, for what it tells us about emerging trends in the world economy.