Marc Bolland. Tony Pidgley. Luke Johnson. Martha Lane Fox. Haymarket's very own Lord Heseltine and more. The stars were certainly out at last night's Most Admired dinner, held as usual at Claridges Hotel in central London. Hosted by Management Today and generously sponsored by Accenture, the evening marked the 21st year of the awards; 21 years celebrating the endeavours of British firms and their remarkable leaders.
It's a difficult time to have a celebration of this nature, what with the Eurozone crisis and associated economic gloom that surrounds us. But the Most Admired awards help to remind us that there are still plenty of bright spots worth shouting about on the UK corporate scene.
MT’s editor Matthew Gwyther kicked off the proceedings, announcing that success, innovation and managerial brilliance would take centre stage for the evening. Cue applause from the assembled dignitaries.
Speaking from their perch on the podium, Gwyther and Haymarket Group chairman Lord Heseltine greeted representatives from HSBC, Diageo, Aggreko, Balfour Beatty, Rolls-Royce, Paddy Power and more as they came to up to collect their awards. Considering that the room was packed with industry rivals, the applause was genuine and ear-splitting. But then that demonstrates the unique strength of Most Admired - the awards are not decided by judges after the usual horse-trading in what used to be smoke-filled rooms. They are given by a firm’s sternest critics - the competition.
So, who were the big winners? In fourth place overall came temporary power business Aggreko, whose stunning financial performance has made it a city darling, in third a genuinely unsung hero of UK engineering, valves and controls business Rotork, and in second previous overall winner, drinks giant Diageo.
MT’s diarist Howard Davies got up on his hind legs to entertain the audience with some pithy insights form his economic crystal ball plus of course a few gags. The one about the Greek mayor being a particular favourite - drop us a line to hear it in full.
Britain’s Most Admired leader is a new face this year, a man who has made a huge impression in what is only his second job in the UK. He first came to attention of boss of Morrisons before landing himself what is traditionally regarded as the best job in British retail, chief exec of M&S. The Most Admired leader of 2011 is of course Marc Bolland. ‘I’ve held your shares since 1955’ joked Heseltine as Boland collected his gong. ‘I’d like a dividend soon!’
And the top gong itself - the coveted title of Britain’s Most Admired Company? That privilege went this year to Berkeley Group, the apparently recession proof home builder founded by Barnardos boy Tony Pidgley. Pidgley was brought up in an old railway carriage and is the first entrepreneur ever to take the award. You might have heard him on this morning's Today programme. Here's a link if you missed it...
As the guest settled down to their coffee and chocolates, one thing was clear. Most Admired’s unique methodology makes not only for an insightful barometer into the state of UK plc, but also for a hugely enjoyable and spirit-raising get together. As Accenture’s managing director UK & Ireland, Olly Benzecry put it 'When our advertising slogan promises 'High Performance. Delivered', it makes sense for us to spend time with the high performers.'
Of course even the best evening has to end. As the winners took their leave what had they made of the proceedings? Fifth-placed Derwent London’s Simon Silver concluded as he and co-founder John Burns made for the taxi rank, 'This is just the most special awards I have ever attended. I have had the most wonderful time.'