Britain's Least Admired Companies 2011: Bottom of the pops

The winners have been feted. Now it's time to swap the sparkling upper waters of the admiration pool for the turbid depths, where the bottom-dwellers lurk - Britain's Least Admired Companies of 2011.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

- Go to the BMAC homepage

Bringing up the rear this year is one of the nation's oldest and best-known brands, the inventor of the package holiday, Thomas Cook. Founded in 1841 by a temperance preacher, the firm made its name through Cook's Tours, 'improving' journeys around Europe for the newly moneyed Victorian middle classes.

But a fortnight all-inclusive in Magaluf no longer appeals to today's earnestly adventurous travellers, for whom the satisfaction of arranging their own camel train across the Namib desert is half the fun. With a squeeze on consumer spending and political disruption in many popular Middle Eastern holiday destinations, Thomas Cook has suffered mightily.

This year, it has issued three profit warnings and its share price has collapsed, down 77% from 146p in January to the mid 40s. No wonder a string of senior figures have taken permanent holidays from the business, including boss Manny Fontenla-Novoa, a travel industry legend who first joined the firm in 1972, and head of UK retail operations Ian Derbyshire. It faces the challenge of reducing its £1.1bn debt ahead of bank covenant tests later this month.

No surprise that there are two pub companies in the Least Admired top 10 - Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns. The way in which the future of so many of Britain's boozers was mortgaged away by being loaded up with debt before the 2008 crash is one of the crasser examples of recent management failure. Things got so bad at loss-making Punch Taverns that this summer the business split into two, like the good bank/bad bank model adopted at Northern Rock a few years ago. So its best-performing pubs are now run by a new group, Spirit, while the rump of 5,000 so-so venues (and £2.3bn of debt) continues as Punch. With 25 or so pubs around the country closing every week, its future looks dim.

Enterprise Inns, by contrast, is not drinking in the last-chance saloon quite yet. Profits were down 66% to £61m, but at least it still makes money and is trying to pay down its debt and drive revenue growth.

Premier Foods, the firm behind Hovis and Mr Kipling, is also struggling with debts accrued during the leveraged buy-outs of Rank Hovis McDougall and Campbells UK. But it's also a victim of fashion - surely makers of staple goods deserve more of a break in hard times?

International mobile and data network provider Cable & Wireless Communications, which split from the old C&W Group last year, has had a troubled time, but results in November suggest that it's on the rebound. First-half revenues were up 24% to £906m.

The same cannot be said for the other bit of the demerged business, Cable & Wireless Worldwide (11th least admired). Its boss John Pluthero quit in November after yet more dire results pushed the troubled internet and phone provider nearly £500m into the red. He will be remembered not only as the man who oversaw that fateful demerger but also as the author of a memorable 'motivational' email in 2006. 'We work for a failing company in a crappy industry,' he told his staff. Plus ca change?

The 10 Least Admired Companies

1 Thomas Cook Group
2 Millennium & Copthorne
3 Enterprise Inns
4 Cable & Wireless Communications
5 Royal Mail Group
6 Gala Coral
7 Premier Foods
8 Tote
9 Punch Taverns
10 Charter

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