The new conversation is a modern version of a tried and tested business theme, writes Thomas Pippos

This year's Top 200 theme, "the new conversation," is a reflection of the changing nature of business and in particular the way in which businesses interact with customers, employees and communities. While "new" in some respects, the conversation also reflects some age-old business themes that have simply evolved over time. What's often just different is the speed of change that can drive these conversations today and the speed that businesses can succeed or fail if they fall in and out of favour with an increasingly connected and involved customer base.

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A key ingredient of the new conversation is the ability to adapt quickly. Globally recognised management expert Tom Peters puts the ability to adapt as arguably Goal / Skill # 1 in these perilous and fast changing times. Moreover, he has commented that the bones of those old and young who failed to adapt litter the landscape. At a conceptual level this is neither surprising nor new, whether in business or elsewhere.

A related theme to that of adaptation is one of resilience. In fact, a notable trait of many of our largest companies has been just that -- the staying power of those in the Top 200. Recognising the evolution of corporate groups over time, it might be a surprise to some that 26 years ago at the inception of the Top 200 Awards many of the then largest companies on the list (by revenue) continue to be represented today around the top of the list.

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Relevant then and now are the current incarnations of Fletcher Challenge, the Australasian Banks, Telecom, Air New Zealand, the offshoots of the Electricity Corporation and what is now Fonterra. The comment around "current incarnations" is an important one as many of our largest organisations today are living evidence of the evolution of brands and companies.

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In fact, this level of resilience in our biggest companies is highly desirable given the relative importance of the Top 200 organisations to the country has continued. They remain the backbone of our economy, if not more so now, as they did over 25 years ago.

The adaptability and resulting resilience of some of our largest organisations is in some respects not that surprising as it flows from the adaptive skills of empowered and talented leaders, held to task through their boards and shareholders -- with many of these stakeholders recognised in the various Top 200 awards.

Adaptability and resilience is not however to be taken for granted. Businesses don't always defy gravity, particularly if they are exposed to structural reform that directly impacts on them. Noticeable omissions today from the 1989 Top 200 list are those that fell from favour following the structural reform of the share market in 1987. These include Elders Resources NZFP, Chase Corp, Brierley Investments and NZI Corporation, although aspects of their businesses continue today in different guises.

But for those that fail there are also those that succeed. The upper echelons of our Top 200 organisations are being replenished by companies that have had a prolonged period of focused growth -- those who have adapted to the market and succeeded accordingly. Examples include Fulton Hogan, which has moved its ranking over the last 26 years from 95th to 12th place. Other examples of noticeable corporate movers include Ebos Group, The Warehouse, Mainfreight and Zespri who respectively now rank 5th, 16th, 22nd and 27th on the list.

The new conversation is therefore in some respects quite "old" and a modern permutation of a well-worn theme. For many it's more about the new opportunities that the new conversation creates than the threats it presents. Ultimately, it means that we live in an exciting and dynamic time to be in business; with the Top 200 Awards looking to recognise and encourage those that succeed -- those that adapt to the market and win accordingly.

Thomas Pippos is the chief executive of Deloitte New Zealand.