The 1980s

A time dominated by free market economics and new, deregulated industries.

First 24-hour news network
Open architecture
Genentech and Amgen
China and India

The Reagan-Thatcher Era

The 1980s witnessed the rise of conservative economic policies under the leadership of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom.

These policies, often referred to as Reaganomics and Thatcherism, emphasized deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending. The impact on business was profound, as companies were given more freedom to operate and expand, leading to increased competition and innovation.


For example, the deregulation of the financial sector in the UK, known as the “Big Bang,” transformed London into a global financial hub. In the US, the airline industry was deregulated, leading to the emergence of low-cost carriers and increased competition. These policies, while controversial, undoubtedly shaped the business landscape of the 1980s and beyond.

The Rise of the Yuppies

The 1980s saw the emergence of a new social class known as the “yuppies” – young urban professionals who were well-educated, ambitious, and driven by material success.

This group had a significant impact on consumer culture, as they sought to display their wealth and status through the acquisition of luxury goods and services.


Yuppies were particularly drawn to high-end brands, such as Rolex watches, BMW cars, and designer clothing. This demand for luxury items fueled the growth of companies catering to this market, while also influencing the marketing strategies of established brands.

The yuppie phenomenon was emblematic of the 1980s’ focus on individualism and materialism, which would continue to shape consumer culture in the decades that followed.

The Leveraged Buyout Boom

The 1980s experienced a surge in leveraged buyouts (LBOs), as corporate raiders and investment firms took advantage of the relaxed regulatory environment to acquire companies using borrowed funds.

This period saw the rise of prominent figures like Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens, who became known for their aggressive tactics and hostile takeovers.


One notable example of this trend was the 1988 acquisition of RJR Nabisco by the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) for $25 billion, which remains one of the largest LBOs in history.

The LBO boom of the 1980s had a lasting impact on the business world, as it led to increased scrutiny of corporate governance and the rise of shareholder activism.

The Growth of Cable Television

The growth of cable television, particularly the establishment of CNN in 1980, marked a significant turning point in business history.

CNN was the first 24-hour news network and provided live coverage of major events, such as the Gulf War, that shaped global affairs. This led to a new era of instant news and real-time reporting, which transformed the way businesses operated.


The growth of cable television also provided new opportunities for advertisers, who were able to target specific demographics and audiences more effectively.

This led to the development of new marketing strategies and enabled businesses to reach new markets and customers, both domestically and internationally, providing growth for companies and the advertising industry.

The Personal Computer Wars

The 1980s saw intense competition between IBM and Apple in the burgeoning personal computer (PC) market.

IBM, with its PC released in 1981, quickly became the dominant player, thanks to its open architecture, which allowed other companies to produce compatible hardware and software. This led to the rise of Microsoft, whose MS-DOS operating system became the industry standard.


Apple, on the other hand, focused on a closed system with its Macintosh computer, launched in 1984. The Macintosh introduced several innovations, such as the graphical user interface and the mouse, which would later become standard features of personal computers.

The rivalry between IBM and Apple during this period played a crucial role in shaping the future of the technology industry and the widespread adoption of personal computers.

The Savings and Loan Crisis

The savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s was a significant financial crisis in the US, which resulted in the failure of more than 1,000 institutions and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. It was caused by various factors such as deregulation, unsound lending practices, and a weak economy.


However, this crisis brought about important lessons that shaped the financial industry’s future. It led to tighter regulations and oversight, with a greater focus on risk management to prevent similar crises. It also served as a warning to the financial industry, showing the impact of loose regulation and risky lending practices.

Despite the high cost to taxpayers and the financial industry, the savings and loan crisis showed that it is possible to learn from past mistakes and make changes to ensure financial stability in the future.

The Rise of Biotechnology

In the 1980s, biotechnology saw a significant rise, led by companies like Genentech and Amgen. This field explores the use of living organisms for new product and technology development.


Genentech pioneered genetic engineering techniques, creating the first synthetic human insulin and recombinant human growth hormone, while Amgen focused on protein-based drugs, leading to erythropoietin’s creation.

This growth had significant implications for healthcare, agriculture, and environmental science, with the potential to transform industries and improve human life.

Biotech firms like Genentech and Amgen paved the way for new business models and entrepreneurship, shaping the industry today. This 1980s era marked a turning point for biotechnology, ushering in a new era of innovation and progress.

The Emergence of Mobile Phones

The 1980s saw the launch of the first mobile phones and the growth of the cellular industry. In 1983, Motorola introduced the DynaTAC 8000X, the first commercially available mobile phone, which was large, expensive, and had limited battery life. Despite these drawbacks, the device marked the beginning of a new era in communication.


As mobile phone technology improved and prices dropped, the devices became more accessible to the general public. The growth of the cellular industry during this period laid the groundwork for the widespread adoption of mobile phones and the eventual rise of smartphones, which have transformed the way we live, work, and communicate.

The Growth of the Video Game Industry

The decade that gave us neon leggings, big hair, and also saw the growth of the video game industry, with consoles and games from Sega and Nintendo becoming cultural icons.

In 1985, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which revived the industry after the video game crash of 1983. The NES introduced legendary games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, forever changing the gaming landscape.

Not to be outdone, Sega entered the console market in 1986 with the Sega Master System, setting the stage for the heated rivalry that would ensue in the 90s.

The growth of the video game industry during this era not only provided new forms of entertainment but also laid the foundation for the multi-billion-dollar industry we know and love today. It’s incredible to think that the gaming giants of today were born in the bright and bold decade of the 80s.

The Fall of the Soviet Union

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was a turning point in global business history, marking the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era of globalization. The dissolution of the Soviet bloc opened up fresh opportunities for Western companies to tap into the vast consumer base in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.

The fall of the Soviet Union also brought about the rise of new economic powers, such as China and India, which began to liberalize their economies and integrate into the global market. This reshaped the global business landscape, creating new challenges and opportunities for companies as they navigated the rapidly changing world.


Indeed, the end of the Soviet era proved to be a catalyst for a new era of globalization, enabling businesses to expand into new markets, diversify their operations, and increase their global reach.

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