Magazine article Management Today

BRITAIN'S MOST ADMIRED COMPANIES: Double First

Magazine article Management Today

BRITAIN'S MOST ADMIRED COMPANIES: Double First

Article excerpt

MT's annual quest to produce league tables of Britain's best businesses is always a record of great achievement, but this year's winner scales new heights. For the first time ever, the Most Admired Company is also headed by the Most Admired Leader. Elsewhere, the 2002 ranking shows just how long 12 months is in business, with M&S and BT - companies in crisis last year - storming back up the charts.

Superstitious souls have given the number 13 a pretty rough ride through the ages, but as this 13th year of MT's Britain's Most Admired Companies demonstrates, the baker's dozen is lucky for some. For the first time in the history of our awards, one company has swept the board, picking up both of the top accolades - Most Admired Company and Most Admired Leader.

Doing the double is no small achievement in any contest, but winning the Britain's Most Admired twosome means earning the respect of your severest critics - your competition. They may be harsh judges, but they are also the people most aware of your strengths and weaknesses. If one firm can dominate the thoughts of its peers so completely it must be doing something right.

Here are a few clues to the identity of this dual paragon of corporate reputation. It's the UK's biggest company, the second-largest in the world in its sector and one of the handful of our native businesses able to better any of its rivals anywhere across the globe. Last year, it acquired a rather more eco-friendly, 21st-century brand identity at a cost of pounds 136 million, and its commercial potential was first spotted way back in the '80s by Margaret Thatcher, who made it one of her earliest privatisation targets.

As for the captain of the ship, he has turned its fortunes around, masterminded two of the past decade's biggest mergers (plus a string of smaller ones), been made a life peer and built an ever-growing reputation as intelligent, forward-thinking and accessible. At home on any platform and one of our leading corporate statesmen, he is, of course, Lord Browne of Madingley, and the company is that giant of the extractive industries, BP.

BP's victory is all the more remarkable, given that the company has not had the easiest of times this year. Operational difficulties have beset the business, including disappointing performances from oil fields in the North Sea and production shortfalls following an explosion in the firm's Prudhoe Bay facility that led to the temporary closure of another 150 of its Alaskan oil wells. As a result, BP has missed its stated growth targets for the first time in years (output is up 3% instead of the promised 5.5%), third-quarter profits are down 13% to dollars 2.29 billion and the City's hitherto unshakable confidence in Browne has been put to the test.

BP's links to New Labour have also come under close scrutiny. Browne (whose elevation to the Lords was as one of the first people's peers) is known to be well tapped into the Government, and BP's upper echelons have proved fertile ground for the staffing of quangos.

But adversity has brought out the best in both BP and its boss. Senior managers have proved themselves well able to minimise the impact of local difficulties, and despite a few flesh wounds, Lord Browne clearly remains the most powerful beast in the British corporate jungle. What's more, his vision of the future - BP as a progressive, integrated energy business, less dependent on black gold and more involved in renewables and alternative fuels - has even won him praise from environmentalists. Little wonder the board has asked Browne to stay on until he hits 60 - another five and a half years.

Looking at our other high-achievers, the old adage about it taking a lifetime to build a good name certainly rings true - several lifetimes in the case of this year's runner-up Cadbury Schweppes, whose constituent companies have been making sweeties since 1824 and bottling mineral water since 1728 respectively. …

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