Last night we celebrated the 25th set of Britain’s Most Admired Companies awards. A week is a long time in politics and 25 years is an eternity in business. When Most Admired was first compiled way back in 1990 by Professor Mike Brown - who still is in charge now - it included company names like Redland, Carlton Communications - one time employer of our prime minister - ICI, Bass, Grand Metropolitan. Greycoat. Who here remembers what Greycoat did?
Nearly all have now gone - fallen to the forces of Schumpeter’s creative destruction. They have, of course, been replaced by new endeavours which reflect the products and services we wish to buy. Who would have thought back in 1990 that a pair of gambling outfits - Paddy Power and Betfair - would get into the top 10? That is the way capitalism functions. This is how it should be.
It was pleasing, however to welcome the only two companies who have toughed it out and are still there in the top 20 as they were 25 years back. Well done Shell and Unilever. There must be something admirably durable about being a little bit Anglo Dutch.
The reputation of business is undergoing another battering at the moment. And while we celebrated the good last night, a quick look at the less good, the least admired is irresistible. Some of this year's misdemeanours by business people have been quite breathtaking.
Harry Lime in The Third Man famously pronounced ‘500 years of peace in Switzerland and what did that create - the cuckoo clock,’ Well not quite. Now they can add Sepp Blatter to that list of achievements. They truly broke the mould when Sepp was created.
You won’t be surprised to hear that FIFA’s Blatter who was recently released from a Swiss clinic following what was described as ‘a small emotional breakdown’ wasn’t a contender for Most Admired Leader. He claims the whole FIFA affair has brought him perilously close to his maker - last week, as he fought back the tears he stated, ‘I was between the angels who were singing and the devil who was lighting the fire, but it was the angels who sang.’
And, of course, to the hall of corporate shame we can now add the Volkswagen Group. You won’t be surprised to hear that VW were just pipped on the Community and Environmental Responsibility award. Those of you who strive hard day in day out to run businesses and do the right thing must wonder ‘what on earth did VW think they they were doing?’ A brand built on the promise - if only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen - has been badly damaged.
Most Admired is also a reminder that while things remain testing there remain British businesses which continue to do well - create employment, make wealth, pay their corporation tax, give people purpose at work. Business makes the world go round. A pat on the back for individuals and organisations should never be under-estimated at the best of times. The celebration of success is vital.
It was especially good that Carolyn McCall of easyJet won the Most Admired Leader gong. This award’s previous winners include Lord Browne, Justin King, Andy Street, Sir Martin Sorrell and Sir Terry Leahy. And it’s a landmark year because for the first time in the awards history our Most Admired Leader is a woman. You couldn’t get further from Blatteresque cynicism than with McCall. Whatever ‘authenticity’ means in a leader, she has it.
McCall appears to be just as enthusiastic about the role and the company as when she first started, but she must now be on every City headhunter’s speed dial.