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The Most Important IPOs Aren't Necessarily The Biggest


If Reddit does become profitable, investors hoping to get in on the next big tech stock will no doubt be ready to jump in if the company goes public. In the world of business, few things are more exciting than the IPO - the initial public offering - where a company lists the shares in the stock market and opens itself up to public ownership for the first time. Marli Guzzetta is a research director for Inc. Magazine, and she's compiled a list of nine IPOs that shaped America. At the top of the list - our country's very first IPO, the Bank of North America.

MARLI GUZZETTA: If you look at IPOs as the coming-out parties for ideas or companies that are going to shape the country, the Bank of North America was an IPO for America itself. The bank was - I mean, they set it up under tremendously difficult situations while the Revolutionary War was being fought. We had to borrow money from France to make it happen. A gentleman named Tench Francis, who ended up becoming the first cashier, actually had to bring a tremendous amount of silver with a team of, I think, over a dozen oxen from Boston to Philadelphia, between enemy lines, to make the IPO happen. And it ended up financing the Revolutionary War, Washington's army. And the fact that it succeeded was a huge feather in the cap of American ingenuity and industry.

RATH: Now, in terms of American history, I wasn't really surprised to see Ford on the list, but I was surprised that it went public as late as they did. I would've thought this would've been the teens or '20s.

GUZZETTA: Exactly. I found it to be very interesting as well. They actually went public in 1956, which was two years after the market returned to pre-depression levels. And I think that timing was incredibly telling. Henry Ford was probably the biggest obstacle standing in the way of the company going public in the first place, and he had already been gone about seven years, ostensibly to eight years, before they announced their IPO. Another thing that's interesting about that IPO is that Goldman Sachs was the company that actually helped them go public as well, and that established Goldman in a way that was even more dominant than they had already been considered on Wall Street.

RATH: You have on this list Parks Sausage. This was the first African-American-owned business to go public. Tell us about Parks Sausage.

GUZZETTA: They technically didn't have an IPO, but the story behind this company was so fantastic, I thought, and the people behind the company. They were an OTC company when they went public, which was in 1969. But the men behind the company, specifically the CEO, the guy managing the company, Mr. Raymond V. Haysbert, was a fascinating character. He was two generations away from slavery himself. He had flown with the Tuskegee Airmen, and then he was the manager and CEO of the company when it went public on the over-the-counter market. And this was actually a year after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. So when you take all of that into consideration, it was actually a pretty substantial move for them.

RATH: Wow. You have some tech companies on here. That's not surprising, but there's an interesting contrast. Apple, of course, needs no explanation. Then you have the 1995 IPO of Netscape.

GUZZETTA: So Netscape in 1995 was a really interesting IPO, and it's one of my favorites because I discovered the Internet in 1995, like a lot of other people. So it was huge - opened at 28, closed at 58. A lot of people say it was the beginning of the end of the tech bubble. But I like to see it as the beginning of the Internet, period. And one of the other things that it did was it - and also an example of one of the first tech companies where there was no tangible product, whereas Sears, in the very - further up in the list, was a good example of an early IPO that brought retail consumerism to the broader market.

This whole new Internet that was being constructed at the time was intangible, was not selling anything, was free, and yet somehow it was monetized, and people saw dollar signs. I mean, the flipside is they saw maybe more dollar signs than they should have after the bubble burst. But, I mean, I think you see now how well it worked out.

RATH: That's Marli Guzzetta. You can find her work, including this article, "These Nine IPOs Changed America," at inc.com. Marli, thank you.

GUZZETTA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.