Autodesk exemplifies many of the companies in this year’s BusinessWeek 50, its 13th annual ranking of the best-performing companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. While each list invariably includes companies that rode the wave of powerful industry cycles—such as this year’s four energy companies—many more, like Autodesk, earned their spot in the BW 50 as innovators. They created products or services dramatically better and cheaper than anything offered by rivals. “These companies are what I call the ‘disrupters’ of the economy,” says Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, an innovation expert. Autodesk and its cutting-edge design software, for example, have helped the makers of everything from appliances to cars to prosthetic limbs take on entrenched rivals with greater resources.
The 13th annual ranking of the BW 50 shows, innovation is still alive and well vital, even among America’s largest companies.