Australia's world beating companies

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On the eve of Australia Day, it has become somewhat customary to reflect on our place in the world.

Depending on the year, opinion writers and ideologues revive their calls for a republic, a new flag, a new engagement with Asia and so on. It's probably a healthy process, though I'm not sure why they use a national day – one that should be about celebrating the positives and the things that unite us – to raise issues that divide us.

Regardless, as we prepare for barbeques, picnics and celebrations across the country, my mind turned to some of the great Australian businesses – those who have taken on the world and won.

One down
We've lost our share of icons this year – for the first Australia Day in living memory, we no longer have a major Australian-owned beer company – but that's the nature of international trade and finance (and there are some little guys doing a great job). It's a shame, but no bad thing. The flip side is that international trade – messy though it is – brings greater prosperity to the global economy and in this age of booming Chinese demand, we're certainly getting more than our share of the benefit.

Australia likes to think of itself as 'punching above our weight' on the global stage. We've made a good fist of both military campaigns and diplomatic engagements in the past century and paradoxically, our geographic isolation from Europe and North America makes us a strategically important partner to both groups who are looking to engage more fully in both Asia and the Pacific region.

Many more forging ahead
Despite our geopolitical importance, our share market only makes up around 2 per cent of the global equity markets. Inevitably, the law of averages suggests we'll only have the occasional global success story. We shouldn't be disheartened by that – on the contrary, we should celebrate those who have been successful on the world stage.

Chief among those international winners have been our miners. Yes, the global market for raw materials is booming, and the cynical might suggest you only have to turn up to do well as a miner at the moment, but Australia has had its share of companies prepared to invest the time and immense capital required to be successful over the long term.

Taking it to the world
Australian miners such as BHP Billiton (ASX: BHP) and drillers like Woodside (ASX: WPL) had been investing in exploration and extraction for years before the mining boom arrived, and having an out-sized impact on world markets.

Other companies have succeeded through innovation and excellence. Cochlear (ASX: COH) has taken a scientific breakthrough – an implant for help those with hearing loss – to the world, and is the global leader in that market. Frank Lowy's Westfield Group (ASX: WDC) grew from a single shopping centre in Sydney's west to a national and international success through hard work and continued improvement of its business model.

In fact, though it's little reported or remarked on, Australian businesses have made some significant strides overseas. Harvey Norman (ASX: HVN) has struggled in Ireland of late, but continues to push ahead in Eastern Europe and Asia. Domino's Pizza (ASX: DMP) owns the licence to the brand – and is seeing strong growth – in Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium and The Netherlands, and QBE Insurance Group (ASX: QBE) has a truly global insurance business, taking in Europe, the US, Latin America and the Asia Pacific region.

Even Coca-Cola Amatil (ASX: CCL), though bottling products on behalf of its US namesake and major shareholder The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) has built a broad portfolio of products of its own in Australia, and is making great strides in one of the world's most attractive (and most overlooked) growth economies, Indonesia.

Foolish take-away
Australians have a great deal to be proud of. Our forebears have bequeathed us a country full of promise and riches, with a culture, environment and prospects that make us the envy of the world. Some of that is an accident of geography and history – much of it has been created by the efforts and application of those who have come before us. It is not perfect, we have much that we can improve, but we should not feel inferior to any.

In that same vein, we have many Australian business success stories of which to be proud – many more than I've highlighted here. I haven't even touched on those who have been successful by staying close to home.

One of the key advantages of being only 2 per cent of the world's equity markets is that the other 98 per cent is an opportunity to be grasped. The companies listed above are a small sample of those who have taken on the world and are winning – the upside for investors is that I think each represents an attractive opportunity at today's prices.

Are you looking for quality stock ideas? Readers can click here to request a new free report titled The Motley Fool's Top Stock For 2012.

Scott Phillips is The Motley Fool's feature columnist. Scott owns shares in Westfield Group, Westfield Retail Trust, Harvey Norman, Domino's Pizza, QBE, Coca-Cola Amatil and The Coca-Cola Company – we eat our own cooking. The Motley Fool's purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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