30 Most Profitable IPOs in Finance History
Private companies decide to become public corporations for a number of reasons, but the most common is to raise money to grow the business. Private investors may have backed a company financially and want to get back the money they invested or to make a profit from the shares they hold, while a government may want to allow the public to invest in a state-owned business, such as a national telecom company.
There are two ways that a company can launch an initial public offering (IPO): by issuing new shares at a price that is determined by external financial experts using the overall value of the company or through a direct listing, by simply starting to sell existing shares that are already held by founders, employees and investors.
After going public, companies often reinvest funds raised back into the business, expand operations, set up new divisions or buy smaller companies to improve their product range or profitability. But let’s be real: The best part is that some very lucky shareholders can make a boatload of money literally overnight.
Here are the 30 most profitable IPOs in global history that resulted in just that.
Date of IPO: June 19, 2019
Nominal value: $7.37 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $7.64 billion
Slack Technologies provides cloud-based collaboration tools for businesses with remote teams. The company offers services on a subscription basis. In 2019, Slack had more than 10 million daily users and was used by over 600,000 organizations.
What’s crazy is that Slack started out as a gaming company called Tiny Speck. The company created an internal messaging software so users could communicate directly and decided to focus on offering the messaging service as a stand-alone product to businesses. Slack went public using a direct listing offering. The company share price fell after going public and has only recently returned to the initial value.
Date of IPO: April 3, 2018
Nominal value:$7.36 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $7.78 billion
Spotify is a music, podcast and video streaming site that offers free and paid subscription models. Since Spotify is a well-known brand, its public offering attracted wide interest. Spotify management decided to list 90 percent of shares in a direct public offering and is estimated to have saved at least $200 million in banking and other finance fees by listing it directly.
The company’s shares started out selling about 20 percent above the estimated value. Spotify wasn’t seeking to raise funds but wanted instead for existing shareholders to be able to sell on the open market.
Date of IPO: May 9, 2019
Nominal value: $8.1 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $8.4 billion
Uber Technology was one of the first to kick off the gig economy by creating a mobile app that allowed car owners to offer ridesharing services as a cheaper replacement for taxis or limousines. The company rapidly expanded into 69 countries and has captured 69 percent of the U.S. rideshare market.
Uber expanded into food and package delivery, and then into freight shipping. Uber’s IPO was the largest on the New York Stock Exchange in 2019 and one of the 10 largest IPOs in U.S. history at the time.
27. United Parcel Service (UPS)
Date of IPO: Nov. 9, 1999
Nominal value: $5.47 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $8.69 billion
United Parcel Service (UPS) is a global shipping and logistics multinational with operations in more than 220 countries and territories. The company started as the American Messenger Service on the West Coast and gradually expanded across the country.
By 1953, UPS had launched air delivery services and was competing with the U.S. Postal Service. UPS started its own airline in 1988, which is now one of the largest in the world. In 1992, the company launched its Supply Chain Solutions division, offering logistics, global freight, financial and mail services for businesses. The UPS IPO was the largest in U.S. history at the time.
Date of IPO: March 9, 2021
Nominal value: $8.95 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $8.95 billion
Roblox is an online gaming company and the maker of the largest mobile game in the U.S. in 2020, with 32.6 million daily users. Roblox allows users to create their own games on the site, and developers receive 30 percent of any revenue generated by their game from players.
The company chose a direct listing IPO, following in the footsteps of other technology companies such as Spotify, Asana and Slack. Roblox’s IPO was the first direct public offering of 2021.
Date of IPO: Oct. 4, 1998
Nominal value: $5.58 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $9.01 billion
Swisscom is Switzerland’s largest telecommunications company and one of its leading IT companies as well. Swisscom was state-owned and previously held a monopoly over telecom services in the country before it went public. The government sold a third of the company initially and now owns just over half, as the government must retain a controlling interest under Swiss law.
Swisscom’s IPO was Europe's largest in 1998. Swisscom is still Switzerland’s leading telecoms company and has expanded operations into neighboring Italy.
24. Telstra Corporation
Date of IPO: Nov. 17, 1997
Nominal value: $5.65 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $9.28 billion
Telstra is an Australian telecommunications company, set up by the government, that originally had monopoly control over all telephone networks in the country. By the 1990s, the Australian government began to privatize state assets, including the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas Airlines and major airports and wanted to create a more competitive telecom market.
Telstra was privatized in a series of floats, with the government retaining majority ownership, until 2003 when the company was fully privatized. Despite the telecom market being opened up to competitors, such as Optus and Vodafone, Telstra remains Australia’s largest national telephone and broadband provider.
23. Japan Airlines
Date of IPO: Sept. 19, 2012
Nominal value: $8.5 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $9.8 billion
State-owned Japan Airlines recovered from a bankruptcy filing in 2010 to become Asia’s third-largest airline by 2012, the year the company went public. The company had eliminated a third of its workforce in a massive restructuring, retired old or fuel-inefficient aircraft, cut routes that weren’t profitable and reduced pensions, resulting in a clean balance sheet and healthy profits.
This made Japan Airlines a very attractive investment, and investor demand for stock during the IPO exceeded the number of shares available, which drove up the share price. The Japan Airlines IPO was the second largest in 2012.
22. Hengshi Mining (now Aowei Holding Ltd.)
Date of IPO: Nov. 26, 2013
Nominal value:$9.3 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $10.55 billion
Hengshi Mining (now Aowei Holding Ltd.) carries out the exploration, mining, processing and sale of iron-ore. The company is based in Hebei Province, in China, an area that has the largest iron-ore usage and steel production in the country. The company serves customers only in China, meeting a high demand for iron ore and steel within the country.
Despite Aowei Holding Ltd. being a public company, the original Hengshi Mining founder, Li Yanjun, still holds 75 percent of the shares in a family trust.
21. Électricité de France (EDF)
Date of IPO: Nov. 18, 2005
Nominal value: $8.33 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $11.4 billion
Électricité de France (EDF) is a largely state-owned French multinational company that produces and distributes electricity and gas to global customers. The company is the largest utility in France and, in 2020, was the largest in the world by revenue.
EDF facilities emit the lowest level of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity due to the company’s use of renewable energy sources, including nuclear and hydro, in energy production. EDF’s public offering in 2005 broke the then-current record for the largest IPO set by AT&T in 2000.
Date of IPO: May 19, 2011
Nominal value: $10.05 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $11.94 billion
Glencore is a commodities marketing multinational company based in Switzerland. The company’s core business is sourcing commodities from third-party sellers and then processing, transporting and selling more than 60 products to over 35 countries. These goods include metals, minerals, energy products (such as coal, crude oil and natural gas), and reclaimed copper and precious metals from recyclables.
At the time, the Glencore IPO was the largest IPO to launch on the London Stock Exchange, exceeding Rosneft’s IPO in 2006.
19. Kraft Foods
Date of IPO: June 12, 2001
Nominal value: $8.68 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $12.99 billion
Kraft Foods was the largest U.S. food manufacturing company by 2001. The Kraft Foods IPO was the second largest U.S. public offering at the time after AT&T’s. Kraft Foods has since split into two companies: Mondelez International, which continues to make the snack and confectionery brands, such as Cadbury and Oreo, and Kraft-Heinz (after a merger with Heinz), which continues to make Kraft’s grocery and beverage brands, such as Maxwell House and Oscar Meyer.
Kraft-Heinz is the third largest food and beverage company in North America and the fifth largest globally.
18. Dai-Ichi Life
Date of IPO: April 1, 2010
Nominal value: $11 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $13.27 billion
The 120-year old Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company is a Japanese insurer that sells life and retirement insurance and other pension service products. As Dai-Ichi largely sells to Japanese customers, critics point out that the company faces a shrinking market as the national population ages.
The company was the second largest insurer in Japan after Nippon Life Insurance at the time of the IPO, but overtook its rival in 2014. Dai-Chi Life is currently focusing on expanding into other Asian markets.
17. Rosneft Oil Corporation
Date of IPO: July 13, 2006
Nominal value: $10.4 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $13.7 billion
Rosneft Oil Company is a Russian natural resource business and the 10th largest oil and gas company in the world. The company’s controlling shareholder is the Russian government, which owns about 40 percent of its stock. Rosneft carries out exploration, production, transportation, storage and sale of petroleum, petroleum products and natural gas.
In December 2019, the International FTSE4Good Emerging Index, that measures environmental, social and governance factors of emerging market companies, gave Rosneft a “B” rating, the highest of any Russian oil and gas company.
16. Bank of China
Date of IPO: May 23, 2006
Nominal value: $11.2 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $14.8 billion
The Bank of China had been a state-owned bank until it went public in 2006. The Chinese banking system had a history of bad loans, corruption and loose risk regulation, and the government used public ownership as a tool to reform the banking system. The rationale was that a bank would be more accountable to shareholders and show greater transparency in bookkeeping and balance sheets.
The Bank of China is one of the world’s 10 largest banks, and demand for shares at the time, especially from overseas buyers, was greater than availability.
15. France Telecom (Orange S.A.)
Date of IPO: Oct. 17, 1997
Nominal value: $7.29 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $15.26 billion
France Télécom (now Orange S.A.) is a French multinational telecommunications company. The company is the largest telecom business in France and the third largest in Europe. France Télécom was a state-owned monopoly in the country until the government sold 20 percent of shares in the 1997 IPO.
The company then began to expand its international operations. When the French government gave up majority ownership in 2004, the company bought back its shares, became private again and began operating internationally under the brand name Orange S.A.
14. AT&T Wireless
Date of IPO: April 26, 2000
Nominal value: $10.62 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $16.44 billion
AT&T (American Telephone & Telegraph) came from the Bell Telephone Company, set up by inventor and businessman Alexander Graham Bell in 1885. AT&T established a connected network of regional carriers across the country over the next century, dominating the industry. The company invested heavily in scientific research, creating Bell Labs where many famous inventions, including the transistor, television transmission, the laser and solar cells, were developed.
In 1983, U.S. government regulators broke up the regional carriers into individual companies, citing monopoly control of the industry. AT&T then focused on long-distance calling services and expanded into the pay-TV market.
13. Japan Tobacco Inc.
Date of IPO: Oct. 27, 1994
Nominal value: $9.57 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $17.1 billion
Japan Tobacco is a multinational tobacco company headquartered in Tokyo and formerly a state-owned business. The Japanese government is still the single largest shareholder, as national laws require at least 30 percent government ownership. The company’s core business is tobacco manufacture and sales, including brands such as Winston and Camel, and it’s the third largest tobacco company in the world.
Japan Tobacco is also engaged in pharmaceutical research and development, in the areas of metabolic disease, autoimmune and inflammatory disease and viral infection, and the manufacture of processed staple foods, such as noodles, bread and rice.
Date of IPO: May 17, 2012
Nominal value: $16 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $18.47 billion
Facebook is considered the largest global social networking site with 2.8 billion active users, and its IPO was an eagerly anticipated event. Facebook makes most of its income from advertising, selling targeted ads based on user preferences. However, Facebook and the underwriting banks may have overvalued shares and passed on confidential price information before the IPO.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg also did not appear to support the company going public. Despite these factors, Facebook was still the largest tech IPO, and the third largest overall, in U.S. history at the time.
11. General Motors
Date of IPO: Nov. 19, 2010
Nominal value:$15.8 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $19.06 billion
General Motors (GM) was founded in 1908 and went on to make some of the most iconic cars in American history, including the Buick Roadmaster, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Cadillac ElDorado. The company was also a pioneer in automotive design, developing front-wheel independent suspension, air bags and catalytic converters.
However, by 2008, the company was struggling as a result of the global economic downturn and filed for bankruptcy in 2009. After financial bailouts from the U.S. government and company restructuring, General Motors went on to have the second largest IPO in U.S. history at the time.
10. Deutsche Telekom
Date of IPO: Nov. 17, 1996
Nominal value: $12.48 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $21.2 billion
Deutsche Telekom was previously known as the state-owned business, Deutsche Bundespost Telekom, before becoming a publicly listed company. The IPO gave Deutsche Telekom the funding to become one of the world’s largest and most valuable IT and telecom companies.
Today, the company has operations in more than 50 countries, including the U.S., where it operates as T-Mobile. T-Mobile sells consumer products, such as fixed network/ broadband, mobile communications, streaming services as well as business and corporate products, including information and communication technology solutions.
9. AIA Group
Date of IPO: Oct. 21, 2010
Nominal value: $17.78 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $21.45 billion
The AIA Group is the largest public insurance and finance company in the Asian region and operates in 18 countries.The company was founded in China by an American and was originally called American Asiatic Underwriters.
The AIA Group is headquartered in Hong Kong and sells insurance cover and financial services, including retirement planning and wealth management, to individuals, and it sells credit insurance, pension and employee benefits products to businesses. When the company went public in 2010, it was the third largest offering in history.
Date of IPO: March 18, 2008
Nominal value: $17.86 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $22.15 billion
Visa International is a U.S.-based payment technology company that operates in over 200 countries and territories around the world, providing payment processing and security and fraud protection. A consortium of banks launched the first Visa credit card in 1977, but investors had to wait until 2008 to buy shares in Visa International.
When the global credit card company finally went public in 2008, in the middle of the global financial crisis, it still became the largest IPO in U.S. history, breaking the record set by AT&T in 2000.
7. Softbank Group Corporation
Date of IPO: Dec. 10, 2018
Nominal value: $21.35 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $22.56 billion
The Softbank Group is a multinational Japanese holding company with headquarters in Tokyo. Softbank owns stakes in companies that sell products and services in the areas of technology, software, cybersecurity, electronic payment, telecommunication, internet, robotics, cognitive computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI), and clean energy.
Softbank-controlled companies sell Human Resources (HR), tax, logistics and Big Data services for businesses. Softbank also runs the world’s largest technology investment fund, Vision Fund. The group typically makes its profits by picking, funding and/or investing early in successful startups, such as Uber and Alibaba.
6. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
Date of IPO: Oct. 27, 2006
Nominal value: $19.07 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $25.24 billion
At the time of its public offering, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was China’s largest lender. As with other state-owned banks in China, ICBC had a high percentage of bad loans, made on the basis of government policy instead of profit or commercial viability.
The Chinese government reformed lending policies and injected massive funding into the bank. The nominal value of ICBC’s IPO was the largest in history at the time, beating the record set by Japanese telecom company, NTT DoCoMo, in 1998.
5. Enel SpA
Date of IPO: Nov. 2, 1999
Nominal value: $16.58 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $26.35 billion
Enel SpA is an Italian-based multinational power company that operates in 32 countries, particularly in Europe and Latin America. Enel SpA had previously been a state-owned company, and Italy privatized the company before adopting the Euro as its national currency.
The company has a reputation for being a “green energy” pioneer, and half of its electricity production comes from renewable sources, including geothermal, wind and solar. Enel SpA is currently one of the 10 largest utility companies in the world and the second largest in Europe.
4. Saudi Aramco
Date of IPO: December 2019
Nominal value:$25.6 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $26.54 billion
Saudi Aramco is a Saudi Arabian oil and natural gas company, founded by the government in 1933, that manages the oil and gas reserves of the country. The public offering was only for 5 percent of the company, and the majority share of 95 percent is still held by the Saudi government.
Saudi Aramco still had the largest IPO of 2019 and the largest in history at that time. Forbes Global 2000 list ranks Saudi Aramco as the fifth largest corporation in the world, based on revenue.
3. Agricultural Bank of China (AgBank)
Date of IPO: Aug. 13, 2010
Nominal value: $22.1 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $26.6 billion
The Agricultural Bank of China (AgBank) is one of China’s four largest banks and primarily focuses on lending in rural areas. Because AgBank serves the country’s farmers and poorer regions, about 20 percent of its outstanding loans were bad ones. State-owned banks in China have a history of making loans based on official government policies, instead of for-profit or commercial-viability reasons.
The Chinese government overhauled lending practices and injected $19 billion into the bank. When the AgBank IPO happened in 2010, it was the largest in the world at that time.
2. Alibaba Group Holding Limited
Date of IPO: Sept. 18, 2014
Nominal value:$25 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $27.9 billion
Alibaba Group Holding Limited is often known as China’s Amazon. Alibaba is an e-commerce, cloud and digital advertising company. The tech giant was started by Jack Ma, a former teacher, and a team of friends in his small apartment in the city of Hangzhou. Their first company was called Alibaba.com, a business-to-business marketplace for Chinese companies to sell and export overseas.
The Alibaba Group went on to set up consumer-to-consumer (Taobao) and business-to-consumer (Taobao Mall) online marketplaces as well as cloud and streaming platforms, Artificial Intelligence initiatives and even its own hardware devices.
1. NTT DoCoMo Inc.
Date of IPO: Oct. 22, 1998
Nominal value: $18.1 billion
Adjusted for inflation: $29.23 billion
DoCoMo is Japan’s largest telecommunications company, providing service to over half the Japanese market. The name is derived from the phrase “do communications over the mobile network” and is a play on the Japanese word, dokomo, which means “everywhere.”
The rationale behind the IPO was to fund DoCoMo’s launch of a 3G network in 2001 and extend its network to almost 100 percent of the country, which competing Japanese mobile networks couldn’t afford to do. DoCoMo held the record for the largest nominal value IPO in history until 2006, when Chinese bank, ICBC, went public at $21.9 billion.