Estonian top 100 companies an exclusive club

Tõnis Oja
, majandusajakirjanik
Pipedrive's office in Tallinn.
Pipedrive's office in Tallinn. Photo: Pipedrive

The trend of Estonia’s 100 largest companies becoming a somewhat exclusive club continued in 2019. While the top 100 remains open, there have simply been few companies capable of sufficiently rapid growth in recent years. Several past newcomers have dropped out again the next year or the one after that.

This is the eighth time Postimees lines up 100 of the biggest Estonian companies, while newcomers number fewer than in previous years. If 2014 saw 11 new companies make it to the top 100, there have only been eight in the last two years.

The list has been dominated by retail chains, fuel and transit companies, wholesalers and banks in the past eight years. Newcomers have also traditionally been transit or wholesale companies.

Still, it seems that 2019 was the last year of stagnation for the top 100. While there is minor readjustment as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the top 100 is finally seeing IT companies and startups, with the trend set to continue next year.

The first tech company to make the top 100 is ridesharing and food delivery firm Bolt Technology landing in 56th place with a turnover of €148 million. Estonian software developer Nortal that was recently elected the best Estonian company in 2020 by Enterprise Estonia, the Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Estonian Employers Confederation only just failed to make the top 100 in 2019.

Software firm Pipedrive the controlling stake in which was sold to Vista Equity Partners last week at a valuation of €1.24 billion managed a turnover of €48.9 million in 2019, making Pipedrive about the 200th largest company in Estonia.

Money transfers company Transferwise that was founded by Estonians but is not registered in Estonia closed the fiscal year with a turnover of £302.7 million or €339 million that would have given it 31st place.

No billion-euro companies

Data from Statistics Estonia reveals that the aggregate turnover of Estonian companies grew to €67.85 billion (+10.7 percent) in 2019, while 100 of the largest companies grew by 7.6 percent to a total turnover of €22.7 billion. The aggregate profit of all companies grew by 72 percent to around €5 billion, with the total profits of the 100 largest growing by 7.6 percent to €1.8 billion. This means that all Estonian companies grew considerably faster than the top 100 did.

If Estonia still had a company with a turnover of more than €1 billion in Ericsson Eesti in 2016, none have managed it since then. That said, last year saw two companies break the €900 million barrier – Eesti Energia in first place (€956 million) and Tallink in second (€949 million).

Coming in third is retail chain Tallinna Kaubamaja (Selver supermarkets – ed.) that hit a turnover of €717 million in 2019. Companies the turnovers of which were between €600-700 million numbered two, as did companies that managed turnovers of €500-600 million. A turnover of €400 million secured one a place in the top ten, while selling at least €86 million worth of goods and services was required to make the top 100.

This latter threshold is the biggest change over the past eight years as a turnover of €67.7 million was enough to make the list in 2012 that makes for a hike of 28 percent.

As always, Estonia’s largest commercial bank Swedbank made the biggest profit at €206 million. The second largest profit was managed by competitor SEB (€100.4 million), with State Forest Manager RMK coming in third on €66 million. Swedbank’s profit was the eighth largest in the history of Estonian companies, while all previous records also belong to the Swedish bank or its Estonian predecessor Hansapank. Swedbank made the largest ever profit in Estonia in 2011 when it earned €443 million.

Last year’s top 100 included eight companies that made a loss to match the situation in 2018.

The owners of the 100 largest companies are also very stable. Major companies include 43 owned by foreign capital, which number is unchanged from the previous year. Companies owned by Estonian private capital also number 43 for an increase of two since 2018.

Major companies not listed

While major companies are usually listed in developed countries, Estonia is an exception to the rule. The top 100 firms included only six listed companies last year, compared to seven in 2018. State-owned Port of Tallinn is also counted as a listed company.

The relative importance of state companies is considerable at eight (including first and third place holders Eesti Energia and RMK).

COVID-19 is not expected to introduce major disruptions to the top 100 next year. It is likely that Tallink will drop into the middle of the first 100 companies from second place in 2019, while most of everything else is forecast to remain the same. Estonia’s leading travel agent Estravel and biggest entertainment group Apollo Group did not make the top 100 this year and will probably not make it next year.