As you can see from our cover, Sir John Browne has emerged as Britain's most admired chief executive. It was an easy decision. Over the past year this complex man, a scientist by training, has catapulted BP Amoco into the superleague of companies, making his American rivals more than a little uneasy. How many executives have done the same?
Yet Browne is not merely a deal-maker. Softly spoken, academic, almost pedantically precise, he is in many ways an unlikely hero. But it is impossible to dismiss the judgment of his peers, top executives of rivals and other companies, who chose Browne as the most admired among them. Of course no one person should take sole credit (or blame) for a company's record, no matter how great their contribution. Nor should a single measure account for an organisation's success or failure. To establish an accurate picture of a company's health and prospects, one needs to inspect it from as many angles as possible. It was with this in mind that we launched the awards for Britain's Most Admired Companies, and this month publish this annual check on Britain's corporate health. In conjunction with Nottingham Business School, we ask the biggest and most powerful companies to judge one another as only they can do, bringing to bear their inside knowledge of what their rivals are doing and how they are performing in a competitive climate that they know best. They use nine criteria: quality of management; financial soundness; quality of goods and services; ability to attract, develop and retain talent; long-term investment value; capacity to innovate; quality of marketing; community and environmental responsibility; and use of corporate assets.
Tesco, this year's winner, has shown a consistency of form that is unequalled as, for the third time in four years, it has been singled out as most admired. Terry Leahy and his team have pulled off a feat that few would have thought possible when these awards began 10 years ago and Sainsbury looked invincible. Today Tesco is champion and its reputation and morale are riding high - but its sector is in turmoil with the emergence of Wal-Mart and Archie Norman's Knutsford takeover vehicle, and the stage is set for a battle where any mistake will mean damage inflicted. One only need look at the collapse in admiration for Marks & Spencer, which last year topped its sector but this year fails to make it into the top 100.
This exercise is not a popularity contest. We see it as a way of providing a look at Britain's top companies that goes deeper than the short-term view of the City, often riding on a share price or quarterly figures.
Perhaps its greatest value is to illustrate to those who take part just how they are perceived by their peers and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.