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Profit From Companies That Reinvent Themselves

Dan Caplinger
November 12, 2012

One of the most impressive things about investing is that so many companies have managed to survive for such a long time. When you look at the most valuable companies in the U.S., you'll find a surprising number of companies that have been in business for a century or more.

Yet whether a company is a relative newcomer to the scene or has been around for decades, there's one trait that determines whether it'll be successful over the long run. If a company can't reinvent itself from time to time, it won't be able to adapt to changing conditions -- and it and its products will eventually end up obsolete.

A simple success story
To be clear, a company can reinvent itself without losing any of the apparent simplicity of its business model. For instance, Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) has grown into the beverage behemoth that it is without making radical changes to its focus.

What makes Coca-Cola stand out, though, is how it's chosen to grow over time. Early in its history, the company merely needed to impress customers with its namesake cola. But in order to grow, Coke needed more than a good product; it needed a distribution network that could connect and deliver first the nation and later the world to the Coca-Cola phenomenon. The company also decided to branch out to other beverages, bringing on juice, water, and other offerings. By doing so, Coca-Cola made the most of what it had already built, yet it reinvented itself as a broader version of its more narrowly focused former self.

Dealing with changing times
Often, companies reinvent themselves not because of foresight but rather out of necessity. The casino industry provides a good example. In the space of half a century, Las Vegas went from being a lonely spot in the middle of the desert to a gaming and entertainment mecca, with private ownership giving way to massive publicly traded corporate owners Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS  ) , Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN  ) , and MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM  ) . Over that time, the whole gaming industry constantly reinvented itself, navigating changing attitudes toward gambling and entertainment while consistently looking to deliver what customers wanted.

Yet when overseas growth led to the creation of other international gaming destinations, Las Vegas los