Admired For Their Character

Tesco's cut-throat methods are not in keeping with the concerned Noughties.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor

The turn of another year signals it's time for Britain's Most Admired Company Awards, and this year marks their 10th anniversary in MT. It's intriguing that both the winner, Cadbury Schweppes, and the second-placed company, Unilever, have been through very tricky times over the past 12 months. Cadbury has been hit not only by white-hot competition but also by rising concerns about obesity.

Unilever's brands are under assault from all sides and are not delivering promised growth at the moment. But these two companies are real stayers and are hugely Admired for their ability to dig in and weather the storms.

Cadbury has very rarely been out of the top 10 over the past decade of the survey and took overall Most Admired title in 1995 - as our additional retrospective article shows.

It won't escape anyone's notice that the apparently unassailable Tesco has dropped down to fourth place, reined back by a poor CSR score. If, like me, you read Joanna Blythman's book Shopped: The Shocking Truth About British Supermarkets, then this might not surprise you. The buying and operating methods used by supermarkets - and Tesco is not alone in this - are cut-throat and not in keeping with the concerned-corporate Noughties.

From the toast of British business to the toast smouldering at the bottom of the list: spare a thought for the unfortunate Vedanta Resources, the Indian mining group with a London listing, which came 220th and last in the rankings with a score of 22.5. Vedanta was placed last in every single category except one. We've not seen a score that low in Most Admired since Railtrack scored 22.0 in 2001 (the hapless rail business disappeared the year afterwards).

It's a hoary old cliche for an enterprise to claim that 'our people are our greatest asset', but nowhere is that more true than in the army. There can't be another business where the complete commitment and cohesion of employees is more vital to make things move forward. I met its boss, General Sir Mike Jackson, for the MT profile this month, and an impressive individual he is, too. To be at the head of an organisation where your staff are losing their lives must be the toughest job of all - one where the degree of responsibility far exceeds anything that the rest of us in civvy street will ever have to endure.

This already difficult task must be made far worse when the war being waged is not at all popular at home. The general acknowledges this, but believes - probably correctly - that the British public distinguishes between their political position and the understanding that the armed forces are under a duty to follow the orders of the government of the day. Whatever one thinks about what we are doing in Iraq, for the professionalism and bravery with which its soldiers undertake their task, our army surely deserves admiration.

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