Britain's Most Admired Companies: The high-wire act at Tesco

Another double for the dominant supermarket chain and its surefooted leader as they scoop the top awards again in our Britain's Most Admired survey. The skill with which Sir Terry Leahy and his team have stormed the market both overseas and online is phonomenal. But there are flaws that could cause an almighty tumble.

The Cheshunt Mob has done it yet again and 2006 is Tesco's year. The UK's mighty grocer has walked off with both accolades in MT's Most Admired Company Awards, presented in association with Mercer Human Resource Consulting: for Most Admired Company itself and, in Sir Terry Leahy, Most Admired Leader. Tesco has now taken those dual honours three times in four years, which is a record.

Leahy consistently performs an amazing high-wire act. The whole country is sitting below him, watching as he climbs his angled steel tightrope ever higher. There are many who expect to see him stumble, some who actively wish him to fall. But, like a latter-day Blondin, he just keeps on placing one soft-soled shoe in front of the other, gripping his balancing pole and heading for the stratosphere. Next year is his 10th anniversary as CEO and Leahy is still only 50.

This sure-footedness is extraordinary. Turnover and profits just keep going up and up. Tesco's half-year results, announced in October, showed profits up by 12.5% to £1.15 billion, with a huge boost coming from international sales. From the Czech Republic to Taiwan, its sales abroad are growing at three times the rate they are in the UK. At online arm Tesco.com, profits were up an amazing 43.1% and one fifth of UK sales are now non-food.

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