Britain's Least Admired 2008

Despite all the action in the upper and middle reaches of the table, down in the murky depths, life is more stable for some. These are the determined BMAC bottom-feeders, which no amount of agitation can dislodge from their Stygian homes.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Mike Ashley's Sports Direct is one of them, 217th last year and 228th this, after a dismal year's trading. Ashley has cut the firm's profits forecast by around £15m and is also busy trying to flog another of his underperforming assets, Newcastle United FC. Interest from the US has been apparently brisk - thanks to a bit of help from the falling pound - and there are rumours that a deal may be cut by the end of the year.

Woolworths is another, bumping along at 238th place, down from 217 in 2007, after posting a record £100m half-year loss. Sir Alan Sugar had tried to take a 4% nibble in October but was left scratching his beard when the seller failed to deliver his shares. With debts of £300m, Woolies' retail operation is now up for sale, and all 800 high street stores may go for as little as a quid. That's the price of a bag of pick'n'mix. Energetic new boss Steve Johnson, who took over only in September, may soon be left with only the firm's joint BBC DVD venture, 2entertain, and the distribution business EUK to run. Still, at least they are doing reasonably well.

The smoking remains of Bradford & Bingley - brought down by a serious buy-to-let mortgage habit - can be found in 235th, one place below embattled life insurer Friends Provident. B&B's savings business is now in the hands of Spanish group Banco Santander, which also owns Abbey.

To reflect the increasingly international nature of UK business, the eligibility criteria this year have been modified to allow the inclusion of selected international, publicly listed firms in a number of sectors, where their UK presence and operations are significant enough to merit consideration alongside BMAC's traditional constituency of UK-listed businesses. Among these newcomers are the UK operations of Bayer and BASF in chemicals, Irish construction business Kingspan in building materials and budget airline Ryanair in transport.

Another sign that prudence and parsimony are emerging as the key corporate preoccupations for the months ahead is a move towards appointing CEOs with a financial background. When times are good, investors look for growth first; as a result, leaders often emerge from the sales and marketing side of the business. But when belt-tightening and cashflow become the main concerns of shareholders, bosses from the finance department gain the ascendancy. There are at least three high-profile appointments of that ilk this year: Ian Livingston at BT and Jeremy Darroch at BSkyB are already in post, while Peter Voser takes over at Shell in July. All were previously finance directors of their respective organisations, and will doubtless be ruthless in making sure that the numbers continue to stack up. BT's Livingston has already announced 10,000 job losses, with hints of more to come.

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