Andy Street's credibility is admirable

EDITOR'S BLOG: Britain's Most Admired Company and its Most Admired Leader are at polar ends of the visibility scale, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 03 Dec 2014

The two top awards for Most Admired this year go to a company and an individual at either end of the visibility scale. The number-one-company slot has been taken by Johnson Matthey, the leading catalytic-converter maker, which quietly makes profits of £430m and has a third of the global market. It is an excellent outfit dating way back to 1817, and a global leader in its field, but to say that Johnson Matthey is low profile is an understatement. This is despite its appearance in Most Admired's overall top 10 for a number of years. It doesn't need to shout – it just gets on with helping us all be a little bit more sustainable.

Maybe JM's rise to the top is a case of tall-poppy syndrome. If you look at the names of companies that have won the accolade in the past decade – Tesco, Diageo, BSkyB, Unilever, Berkeley Group - all are right up there in the public eye, with the reputational peril that implies. All have taken the brickbats with the bouquets. With the SFO now on its tail, some would say that the first named of them, the grievously wounded Cheshunt behemoth, has now paid a terrible price for being the tallest and most hubris-filled poppy in the field. Goldman Sachs has told it to shut a fifth of its superstores.

See the full list of Britain's Most Admired Companies

By contrast, the Most Admired leader slot has been taken by Andy Street of the ubiquitous John Lewis, the post-crash darling of the UK high street. The John Lewis Partnership is on a real roll at the moment. In a dog-eat-dog retail world of horse-meat scandals, zero-hours contracts, suppliers waiting 100 days to get paid, JLP and its ownership model is much envied for its effectiveness.

Andy Street himself has had a run of publicity, starting with a BBC series about his stores, and topped off this autumn by an outburst about the shortcomings of the French nation that grabbed headlines on both sides of the channel. But he's no UKIPer. Having been placed on the naughty step for a number of hours by his comms people, he told me he's a confirmed Francophile, and suggests his comments were more in sorrow than anger.

The rivalry between John Lewis and Waitrose has always fascinated me. Street also admitted that he regards his bit of the partnership as being far less posh than Waitrose. So in a branch of John Lewis, you are unlikely ever to hear the priceless: 'Do put the papaya down, Orlando.'

Finally, our departing features editor, Emma De Vita, has put in an admirable 12-year stint at MT. My best wishes to her and to you all for a happy Xmas and prosperous new year.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewGwyther

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