Britain's Most Admired Companies 2015

Unilever wins again, Carolyn McCall first woman to win Most Admired Leader.

by MT Staff
Last Updated: 01 Dec 2016

What more fitting winner in this the 25th anniversary year of Britain's Most Admired Companies awards, than a company that was there right from the start? One of only two companies from the original 1990 top 20 that have retained their place in the nation's premier league of corporate reputation, in fact.

Even more apt given its reforming CEO's very public eschewing of short-termism, this winner has recorded one of the most sustained long-haul performances in the awards history, not only appearing in that very first top 20 of 1990 but remaining firmly within every single top 20 since. To cap it all, it's even won the overall award before, back in the dark days of 2010 when the chickens of the 2008 financial crash were still coming home to roost.

In winning again this year, it joins a very exclusive club indeed. Only a handful of other companies in Most Admired's history have won the coveted pewter star more than once - including Diageo, Tesco and Cadbury-Schweppes, now a mere shadow of its former self as an offshoot of US food giant Mondelez.

Britain's Most Admired Company of 2015 is Flora-to-Vaseline, Dove-to-Domestos consumer goods giant Unilever. It has won in fine style, with a higher score than last year's champion and taking no fewer than three of the special criteria awards, to boot - for Financial Soundness, Ability to Attract & Retain Top Talent and Quality of Marketing. Not a bad trio of assets for any organisation to possess.

The award tops off a vintage year for the Anglo-Dutch outfit and its CEO Paul Polman (pictured below right), with predicted full-year sales revised up to around €50bn - growth of getting on for 4%, not half bad in such tough global market conditions. It has responded vigorously to the long shadow cast by the Chinese slowdown: Q3 sales across all its emerging markets (which account for 60% of total revenues) are up a solid 8.4%, with Latin America and Turkey highlights.

Increased R&D spend is paying off too, with the caffeine-fuelled sales of its espresso-flavoured Magnum ice creams a big hit in Europe, and a new range of 'dry spray' deodorants helping Americans keep their cool in the summer heat. Diversity - of both product and geography - remains a Unilever strength: more narrowly focused rivals may soar higher initially, but in the end they fall further too.

Professor Michael Brown of Leeds Business School, the man behind the Most Admired research from day one, says, 'Unilever's achievement, not only in winning the overall award twice but also in being such a constant presence near the top of the table, is testimony to the value of a good reputation, nurtured carefully over many years.'

Central to that reputation is the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever's agenda-setting commitment to halve the environmental impact of its activities whilst simultaneously doubling revenues and improving the lives of one billion people (approximately half its total customers) in developing countries - all by 2020. Launched in 2010, the SLP is now at the halfway point, and it has also helped unite Unilever's once-fragmented customers, employees and shareholders around a common corporate narrative. Even the formerly sceptical City, where 'green' aspirations can be regarded as a ruse to cover up financial underperformance, is getting on board: Unilever shares are becoming an increasingly common 'buy' recommendation.

Gina Boswell (pictured top right), general manager, Unilever UK & Ireland, says, 'We are very proud to receive this award. Our blueprint for success is the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. It forces us to think in new ways to achieve our goals, it helps bring the outside in and has many different touchpoints across our business including how we develop, deliver and market our brands. And I think it increasingly resonates with those around us.'

This year's other landmark result comes in the Most Admired Leader poll, won for the first time by a female CEO - none other than easyJet's high-flying boss Carolyn McCall. Having seen off an attack on her pay packet from unruly founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou last year, McCall has had a clear runway and really made the most of it. With pre-tax profits up 18% to a record £686m on revenues of £4.69bn, the 'premium low-cost' airline carried 68.6m passengers in 2015. McCall's controversial decision to buy 30 new aircraft has been vindicated, and with a new role as one of the pro-EU members of PM David Cameron's business advisory board, McCall is now firmly established as one of the country's most effective and influential CEOs.

Back to the main Most Admired league table, in second place comes last year's winner Johnson Matthey, pipped to the post but still taking the criteria awards for Value as Long-term Investment and Community & Environmental Responsibility. The biggest company you may never have heard of Johnson Matthey is a market leader in automotive catalytic convertors and is also diversifying into battery tech and other new applications for its particular branch of expertise in chemistry. It's exactly the kind of knowledge-based high-value specialist that the UK needs more of.

As a peer-review survey, the essential question that Britain's Most Admired Companies sets out to answer is 'How do your rivals rate you?' It is based not on hard metrics such as financial performance, but on the more mutable but equally important quality of reputation. The winners are chosen not by a panel of judges, with all the horse- trading that implies, but by every company's sternest and best-informed critics - its immediate competitors.

One sector which is doing pretty well according to that singular BMAC methodology is the property business - it is the most confident of all the 25 sectors in this year's survey, with a total score of 630, and there are two London-focused property firms in this year's top 10: third-place Derwent London and Great Portland Estates at equal seventh.

Derwent has had its best ever year for rentals, according to CEO John Burns, letting over 500,000 sq ft in the first nine months of 2015. It also wins the criteria awards for Quality of Goods & Services and Innovation, a remarkable achievement in an industry not renowned for either attribute. But its forward-looking office spaces such as the Old Street Roundabout's White Collar Factory provide comfortable, flexible and reconfigurable workspaces ideal for the co-working generation.

Success is a necessary if not a sufficient condition for admiration after all, and the UK capital continues to be a huge draw for investors from across the globe. Whether it's an office for a new start-up, a mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens or an off-plan new-build flat in Lewisham, everyone from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs through escaping Russian oligarchs to the Chinese mass-wealthy professional classes wants a piece of British bricks and mortar. More than 80% of the investment in London property is now reckoned to be coming from overseas, a fact that may not go down well with struggling first-time buyers but which has almost certainly helped Berkeley Group - Tony Pidgley's south-east centric executive home builder - rise 10 places to fifth overall in this year's table.

The other hot sector is gaming. Sixth place Betfair is the highest riser in the top 10, up from 38th last year thanks partly to an injection of energy from CEO Breon Corcoran and partly to the City-pleasing £5.7bn 'Betty Power' mega-merger with Dublin-based high street rival (and Corcoran's former employer) Paddy Power. Paddy Power itself comes in one place behind at equal seventh, down from last year's high of fourth, suggesting that the industry reckons the deal might be more to Betfair's benefit than Paddy's. Either way the merged entity - which, subject to regulatory approval will be the world's largest online gaming business - looks like a pretty good punt.

Bookies aren't the only people gambling on big deals this year, in fact M&A is very much back on the menu across the board as corporates with cash to spare but feeling the margin squeeze go looking for economies of scale - and to take out a competitor or two while they are about it.

In beverages, Budweiser brewer AB InBev (itself the product of several mergers as the rather mangled monicker suggests) is about to imbibe SABMiller, a massive £71bn swallow that will result in the world's largest beer business generating almost 50% of global beer profits. In telecoms, the rather more modest sale of O2 by Telefonica for £10bn should give purchaser Hutchison extra heft in a market which is consolidating at breakneck speed.

In the oil, gas & extractive sector, BG Group - hit by the double whammy of the loss of its visionary boss Frank Chapman to cancer in 2013 and the ongoing slump in the oil price - is in the process of being subsumed by giant rival Shell. Some industry watchers fear that the £40bn price tag is too high, and that without a prompt return to higher commodity prices the merger may struggle to create value. But at 13th overall, Shell is up 47 places from last year, the highest-placed oil company in 2015's survey.

Up seven places in ninth is RB, the household goods company formerly known as Reckitt Benckiser whose brands include Cillit Bang, Vanish and Durex. It's one of no fewer than three Anglo-Dutch multinationals in the top 20 (the others being Unilever and Shell), highlighting the close ties to Europe that are woven into UK plc. Whatever one's stance on next year's in/out EU referendum, it is pretty clear that an 'out' vote would have substantial commercial implications for many of the UK's largest employers.

The aforementioned low oil price - which after 12 months at well under $100 is surely now officially more than a blip - has had effects right across the 247 companies in this year's Most Admired. Those industries such as chemicals (with its reliance on petroleum-based feedstock) and air transport (ditto jet fuel) where cheap oil goes straight to the bottom line are the winners, whereas those whose customers are to be found among the ranks of the oil majors themselves - especially offshore engineering outfits - have had a hard time of it. Rotork is one such, but despite a bumpy year, the Bath-based manufacturer of high-tech valves and actuators hangs onto its regular top 10 slot - if only just.

Notable by their absence from the top 10 this year are the retailers. Last year's runner up, Next falls nine places to 11th this time around, while chattering classes' favourite the John Lewis Partnership is down 10 to 15th. The highest placed supermarket - Aldi of course - can only manage 22nd, while Sainsbury's, despite being way down in 126th place and seeing its first half profits tumble by a shocking 18% to £308m, does best out of the Big Four. Former six-times Most Admired winner Tesco languishes in 163rd, but new boss 'Drastic' Dave Lewis can take some solace in the fact that it is at least up 18 places from last year's 181st.

So while we are still keen on many of the products they sell, as the success of Unilever demonstrates only too well, we UK consumers may be falling out of love with some of the shops that have sold them to us over the past couple of decades. If Napoleon Bonaparte were alive today, he might have to revise his famous opinion - it seems that in the 21st century, the British may no longer be a nation of shopkeepers after all.

2015 2014 Company Score
1 11 Unilever   
75.00
2 1 Johnson Matthey 73.86
3 9 Derwent London 71.95
4 3 easyJet 71.56
5 15 Berkeley Group 70.54
6 38 Betfair 70.53
7= 27 Great Portland Estates 70.07
7= 4 Paddy Power 70.07
9 16 RB 69.52
10 7 Rotork 68.72
11 2 Next 68.24
12 14 Sky 68.00
13 60= Royal Dutch Shell 67.70
14 59 Melrose 67.41
15 5 John Lewis Partnership 67.39
16 70 Bet365 67.32
17 45= Bunzl 67.21
18 57 Shire 67.08
19 54= AstraZeneca 67.05
20 30 Glanbia 67.02
21 8 Croda International 66.50
22 37 Aldi (UK) 66.36
23 113 Land Securities 66.24
24 65 AVEVA Group* 66.13
25 80 Workspace Group 65.93
26 21 William Hill 65.62
27= 34 Babcock International 65.57
27= 85 Ryanair 65.57
29 90= Experian Group 65.56
30 13 Victrex 65.43
31 31= Spirax-Sarco Engineering 65.41
32 49 Rolls-Royce 65.20
33 52 Costain Group 65.08
34 6 Kier Group 64.85
35 - Rightmove 64.72
36 79 Banco Santander 64.71
37 42 Capita 64.50
38 168 Hikma Pharmaceuticals 64.43
39 - Virgin Atlantic 64.40
40 17 BASF (UK) 64.33
41 92= National Grid 64.23
42 23= Kerry Group 64.18
43 53 St. James's Place Wealth Management 64.12
44 108 British Land Company 63.98
45 35 International Airlines Group 63.91
46 47 Elementis 63.88
47 33 Keller Group 63.64
48 20 Stagecoach 63.57
49 36 Galliford Try 63.49
50 74= Shaftesbury 63.44
51 100/28 Dixons Carphone* 63.36
52 56 Schroders 63.33
53 67 GKN 63.25
54 184= BHP Billiton 63.19
55 44 Prudential 63.06
56 204 Smith and Nephew 63.02
57= 66 Associated British Foods 62.98
57= 107 WPP 62.98
59 156 Greencore Group 62.94
60 45= AB InBev (UK) 62.81
61 - TUI Group 62.77
62 29 Hargreaves Lansdown 62.75
63 69 IMI 62.67
64 72= Laing O'Rourke 62.65
65 74= Handelsbanken 62.48
66 88 Barratt Developments 62.38
67 187= Fidessa 62.37
68 83= Bodycote 62.36
69 31= Intertek 62.29
70= 154 BG Group 62.28
70= 12 Diageo 62.28
72 43 Coca-Cola Enterprises 62.24
73 120 Lidl (UK) 62.06
74 78 Dunelm 62.00
75 62 Hammerson 61.98
76 - Ashtead Group 61.92
77 - Marshall Aerospace & Defence  61.50
78 196  Micro Focus International    61.46 
79 90= Halfords 61.43
80 68 Weir Group  61.42
81 25  SABMiller  61.36 
82 184= Rio Tinto  60.93
83 22 Domino’s Pizza (UK)  60.86 
84 71 Legal & General  60.75 
85 121 RELX Group*  
60.72 
86 151 Sage Group  60.64 
87 51 HSBC  
60.57  
88 19 Admiral  60.51 
89 64 Pets at Home Group  60.50 
90 - Regus   60.42  
91 180  NCC Group 60.36
92 144 888 Holdings  60.35 
93 142 Centrica 60.33 
94 162 Severn Trent  60.17 
95 125 Bellway  60.15  
96 40= Carillion  
60.06 
97 126 ITV 59.93 
98 148 Playtech 59.92 
99 220 Smiths Group  59.88 
100 98 National Express  
59.82  
101 110= Synthomer 59.81 
102 86 SSE 59.73 
103 122 Lloyds Banking Group 59.68 
104 26  Aggreko 59.67 
105 109 Standard Life  59.66 
106 - Advanced Computer Software*  
59.63 
107 105 Marston’s 59.57 
108 39 Walgreens Boots Alliance*  59.54 
109 140 Barclays 
59.50 
110 163 BP 59.48 
111 212 Hill & Smith Holdings  59.47 
112 118 Kingfisher  59.21 
113 164  Segro  59.20 
114 104  BTG 58.96 
115 54= The Restaurant Group  58.86 
116 117 BAE Systems  58.83
117 187= Computacenter 58.69 
118 10 McDonald’s Restaurants UK 
58.67 
119 - SSP Group  58.60 
120 - Merlin Entertainments  
58.57
121= 145 LondonMetric Property  58.49 
121= 106 Provident Financial 58.49
123 112 TeleCity Group 
58.36 
124 119 Pennon Group 
58.29 
125 - Scapa Group  58.25 
126 72=  J Sainsbury  58.14 
127 76 Alent 58.08 
128 136 Daily Mail & General Trust  58.07 
129 127 Amlin  
57.90 
130 18 GlaxoSmithKline 57.84 
131 201= Ineos  57.50 
132 60= 
Greene King 57.43 
133  = 81 Marks & Spencer  
57.42
133= 128 Senior 57.42
135  = - Carnival 57.40 
135= 92= Crest Nicholson Holdings  57.40
135  = 114 Ultra Electronics   57.40 
138 58 Go-Ahead Group 57.36
139 135 Essentra 57.29 
140 139 Persimmon  57.14 
141=
Brakes Group  57.13 
141= 173 Vesuvius  57.13 
143 87 London Stock Exchange  57.07 
144 89 Willmott Dixon  
56.97 
145 130 Redrow  56.85 
146 77 IG Group  56.80 
147 40= Aberdeen Asset Management  
56.75 
148 - Cineworld Group  
56.73 
149 155  BBC  56.70 
150 - Thomas Cook Group  56.60 
151 48 Transport for London  56.53 
152 23= 
JD Wetherspoon  56.52 
153 - Booker  56.50 
154 194  
United Utilities   
56.42 
155 158  Taylor Wimpey  56.41 
156= 159 Meggitt  
56.30  
156= 192 TSB* 56.30 
158 172 Rentokil Initial  
56.07 
159 - Indivior 56.03  
160 131 Direct Line Group  55.98 
161= 143 
EDF Energy  
55.83
161  = 197= Rank Group  55.83 
163 181 Tesco  55.82 
164 95 Britvic 55.80
165 149 Spirit Pub Company  * 55.73
166 - Morgan Sindall Group  55.63 
167 - Bourne Leisure  55.50
168 166 Aviva 55.47
169 207  Telefónica (UK)   55.20
170 - B&M (European Value Retail) 
55.17 
171 63 Asda (UK) 
54.95
172 137 AG Barr  
54.92 
173 157 GDF Suez Energy UK 
54.78 
174 110= Standard Chartered  54.67   
175= 161 Pearson    54.30
175= 174 TalkTalk Telecom Group 54.30
177 - Saga 54.20
178 152= Carlsberg (UK) 
54.10  
179 - Cairn Energy   
54.04  
180 147 Mitchells & Butlers   54.01
181 189=   Dairy Crest   54.00
182 223 Gala Coral 53.98  
183 101= Henry Boot 53.70
184 178 MJ Gleeson* 53.52  
185 101= Vodafone   53.35
186 152= Cobham 53.25
187 177 Glencore  53.21
188 - Inmarsat 53.10
189 214 Balfour Beatty 53.07
190 170 Old Mutual 53.05
191 123 Tullow Oil 52.90
192 99 Tate & Lyle 52.88
193 183 Ocado 52.86
194 221= UBM 52.83
195 176 Anglo American 52.77
196 199 E.on UK 52.74
197 - GVC Holdings 52.73
198 179 Bovis Homes 52.57
199 103 Henderson Group 52.54
200= 169 Arriva 52.50
200= 197= QinetiQ Group 52.50
202 141 Poundland 52.40
203 189= Wilkinson 52.38
204 146 Investec 52.33
205 129 Molson Coors Brewing Co (UK) 52.25
206 - AA 52.00
207 229 Quindell 51.92
208 - Nichols 51.88
209 - Odeon & UCI Cinemas  51.75
210 94 Lookers 51.71
211 116 Drax Group 51.54
212 210 Wm Morrison 51.52
213 96 BT Group 51.08
214 132 Home Retail Group 50.91
215= 97 Inchcape 50.83
215= 205 Informa 50.83
217 201= FirstGroup 50.47
218 186 Royal Bank of Scotland 50.33
219 206 WHSmith 49.80
220 150 ICAP 49.57
221= 209 Fenner 49.37
221= 182 Miller Group 49.37
223 203 G4S 49.25
224 225 Intu Properties 49.08
225 - Card Factory 
48.83 
226 175 Premier Oil 
48.76 
227 134 3i 
48.40 
228 193 RSA Insurance 47.93
229 208 Carpetright 47.60 
230 211 C&C Group  
46.93 
231 219 2 Sisters Food Group  
46.53 
232= 235 Bank of Ireland 
46.04
232= 200 Flybe 
46.04 
234 224 Ladbrokes 45.24
235 227 Co-operative Group  45.21
236 234 Chemring Group  44.90
237 - Parkwood Leisure  44.40
238 231 Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment  
43.85 
239 - Monarch Holdings  43.67 
240 216 Cable & Wireless Communications 
43.50
241 228 Colt Group*  43.13 
242 226 Debenhams 42.61 
243 221= Enterprise Inns   41.43 
244 215 Iceland 41.27
245 236 Co-operative Bank  40.33 
246 - KCom Group 
39.63 
247 - Monitise  35.50

* Merged, acquired, name change or delisted


HOW THE WINNERS WERE CHOSEN

In conjunction with Leeds Business School, MT asked Britain’s largest public companies in 25 sectors to evaluate their peers. Each sector comprises a maximum of 10 companies. Using nine criteria, participants rated their sector rivals on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 = poor, 5 = average, 10 = excellent). Analysts at leading City investment firms were also polled. On the basis of these scores, three rankings were arrived at: all 247 companies; top 10 overall on each criterion; and league tables in each sector. In sectors where there are insufficient qualifying listed UK companies, selected privately owned firms, international businesses with significant presence in the UK, and publicly or employee-owned organisations were included. Respondents were also asked to name their most admired leader.

Research by Professor Michael Brown, Leeds Business School.

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