Innovation Leaders has released its annual report detailing companies across 25 different sectors worldwide that accomplish the most from innovative activities. This year, Innovation Leaders highlighted three trends in its analysis: US dominance, partnerships and collaboration, and the impact of big bets and bold moves to deliver tangible, sustained growth.

We are pleased to announce the results of the 2016/17 Innovation Leaders research that identifies the companies which achieve the most from their innovation activities and deliver tangible, sustained growth. Now in its 16th year, this annual analysis profiles the global leaders across 25 different sectors, highlighting the shifts taking place and identifying new achievements.

As a core part of the research, Innovation Leaders tracks the link between innovation and share price growth. Year after year, the companies identified as being the most effective innovators outperform their peers and the market. Over the last 15 years average return of the Innovation Leaders portfolio has been 14.5% CAGR. In 2016, growth was 18.9% again significantly higher than the S&P500, NASDAQ and FTSE 100.

The 2016/17 Innovation Leaders results include a number of consistent performers from previous years such as Amazon, Apple, Inditex, LEGO and Reckitt Benckiser as well as more recent entrants including Accenture, Boston Scientific, Delta Air Lines and Nvidia.

The 2016/7 analysis reveals three notable trends:

US Dominance

After greater European and Asian presence over the past decade, this year 20 of the 25 leaders are US based organisations. This is the highest single country concentration since the research began in 2001 and reflects both the continued global dominance of the West Coast as a centre of innovation and its impact on other sectors across the country, some of which previously had a greater focus on M&A driven growth. The remaining leading innovators are based in Denmark, Korea, Germany, Spain and the UK. The drop in European presence on the list, down 50% within a couple of years, should be raising some hard questions about the future in London and Berlin especially.

Partnerships at the Fore

Although effective collaboration has been a key component of successful innovation for some sectors for some time, it is clear that, today, this is increasingly influential across the board. Organisations such as Accenture and Cisco and KT Corporation have positioned themselves specifically to help to drive customer innovation; companies like Adidas, Delta and LEGO are using partnerships to maximise brand impact; and firms including Boston Scientific, Dow Chemical and Lilly are all focused on collaboration across their respective ecosystems. Irrespective of sector, deeper partnership-driven innovation is very much at the fore. This does not suggest that the days of ‘going it alone’ are over, but highlights how, in an ever more interconnected world, delivering high impact change requires new alliances.

Big Bets

While some companies such as FedEx, Inditex, PepsiCo and Reckitt Benckiser, continue to focus on delivering consistent incremental innovation, more radical breakthrough approaches are core to several organisations’ growth strategies. It is clear from both new product launches and underlying patent activity. Alongside Alphabet’s significant ‘Other Bets’ activities, Amazon’s strong moves into AI and Apple’s major R&D investments, others are also raising the stakes. Whether this is Bank of America’s proactive positioning on block-chain, Humana’s investments in digital, LEGO’s movie partnerships or Nvidia’s expansion from gaming into automotive, more established companies seem willing to explore and support a number of major intelligent future growth investments: Tesla’s bold moves continue to capture many headlines but others are not holding back.

The 2016/17 Leaders

Based on the detailed ongoing analysis of innovation performance, R&D investment, new product and business launches and patent activity, these are the organisations that are the most effective innovators across 25 major sectors. Each company is categorised within the sector where it generates the majority of its revenues.

Company Sector HQ Location
Accenture IT Services US
Adidas Sportswear Germany
Adobe Software US
Alphabet Media and Entertainment US
Amazon Retail US
Apple Consumer Electronics US
Bank of America Banking US
Boeing Aerospace US
Boston Scientific Medical Devices US
Cisco Telecom Hardware US
Delta Air Lines Airlines US
Dow Chemical Chemicals US
Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals US
Fedex Logistics US
First Solar Energy US
Humana Healthcare US
Inditex Fashion Retail Spain
KT Corporation Telecom Operator South Korea
LEGO Toys and Games Denmark
Marriott Hotels and Leisure US
Nvidia IT Hardware US
PepsiCo Food and Drink US
Reckitt Benckiser FMCG UK
Tesla Automotive US
Xerox Office Products US

For more details, please see

Key Insights

Across the identified companies, we can see varied approaches all having impact:

Accenture Linking digital and management consulting to drive client innovation
Adidas Partnership, brand-led innovation across the whole product portfolio
Adobe Leading the digital evolution across graphics and desktop publishing
Alphabet Using significant, rising Google income to place many big, bold bets
Amazon Successful expansion from retail to cloud services extending into AI and autonomy
Apple World’s most valuable company is refilling its pipeline across a widening portfolio
Bank of America Proactive positioning on fin-tech and block-chain inspiring sector disruption
Boeing Matching commercial aviation performance with advances in defence and space
Boston Scientific Growing influence across medical devices via partnerships and niche market focus
Cisco Driving growing cloud and IoT based transformation across the connected economy
Delta Air Lines Matching new seat innovation with more process and in-air experience partnerships
Dow Chemical Pervasive front-runner and driving force developing a more sustainable industry
Eli Lilly Strong pivot to cancer and Alzheimer’s bearing fruit alongside the traditional core
FedEx World’s largest fleet adopting greener fuels and competing on autonomous delivery
First Solar Pushing integrated system adoption in a fast-growing but highly competitive sector
Humana Advancing digital healthcare to increase engagement, efficiency and reduce costs
Inditex Sustained incremental innovation optimising global multi-brand, fast fashion
KT Corporation Deep collaboration driving adoption of next generation technology platforms
LEGO World’s most valuable brand exploring and delivering the future of play
Marriott Major hotel firm embracing innovation as source of guest experience differentiation
Nvidia High-impact expansion from processors for gaming into automotive and AI
PepsiCo Sustaining “performance with purpose” to improve resource use and product health
Reckitt Benckiser Non-stop incremental innovator growing globally as a consumer health powerhouse
Tesla The catalyst for change across the automotive industry leading from the front
Xerox Industry pioneer, regaining leadership through focus on analytics and automation

About the Innovation Leaders Analysis

In order to gain an insightful and validated perspective on the true innovation leaders on a sector-by-sector basis, the annual Innovation Leaders analysis assesses the performance of 1,500 of the world’s top companies against a number of specific key parameters. The individual innovation and growth performance of the top companies within each sector are compared against each other and additional research around the differences between the leading organisations is undertaken to ensure that the perspectives gained are fully up to date. This provides what we believe to be the most accurate picture of the companies that are the most effective innovators in each sector, and allows us to highlight the respective key competitive strengths.

The eight areas that we research and input into the assessments across different sectors are:

  1. Organisational culture and supporting structure;
  2. Strategic focus on innovation driving corporate growth;
  3. New product launches and relative success ratios;
  4. Growth in revenues, profits and market capitalisation;
  5. Average revenue and margin per product or customer;
  6. Investment in activities such as R&D and marketing;
  7. Brand value and human capital growth; and
  8. Peer review from within the sector.

In addition, where appropriate, we look at recent intellectual property performance focused on US patents since these are the best independent objective guide in this area and act as a good proxy for innovation output. Together these are all used in sector-specific algorithms that calculate a ratio of innovation effectiveness – essentially identifying which companies gain the most innovation impact in relationship to the investments they make.

Over the past 15 years, a portfolio of stocks based on the Innovation Leaders analysis has repeatedly outperformed all major indexes. Average return has been 14.5% CAGR and in 2016, growth was 18.9% – significantly higher than S&P500, NASDAQ and FTSE 100. Year after year, this analysis has proven that those firms identified as being the most effective innovators consistently outperform their peers and the market.

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The Innovation Leaders analysis is an annual global research programme undertaken by members of the Growth Agenda team. Its aim is to inform organisations on the most effective approaches for success. It is regularly used by governments and companies around the world to inform policy, guide investment and refine growth strategies.

About the author

Dr. Tim Jones is a recognised expert in innovation, growth and futures. He is the author / editor of eight books and a regular speaker on innovation leadership, growth platforms and future trends. For over twenty-five years he has worked with many leading multinationals, governments and universities identifying emerging opportunities: A leader in collaborative programmes, Tim has made his name in helping organsiations to see the world through a different lens and so reveal new areas for potential growth. Tim is Programme Director of the Future Agenda – the world’s largest open foresight programme; leads the annual Innovation Leaders analysis that profiles the companies making the most of their innovation investments and is also co-founder of a global advisory network, The Growth Agenda.