December. The end of a year that began quite promisingly and concluded with most people eager to see the back of it. Who would have thought 12 months ago, with world economies growing at a respectable rate and confidence still blooming, that we'd now wind up staring down the twin barrels of recession and war?
Year-end is also the time for our annual and widely anticipated Most Admired Companies survey. And for 2001 it has brought rather a quirky line-up. We have an old stager from a mature industry returning to the number one slot. After a 10-year absence, Shell finds itself back in favour. Perhaps those times are back when the reassurance of its old advertising slogan, You can be sure of Shell, resonates once more.
The newcomers to the Top Ten come from the other end of the spectrum: Next, run by the youthful Simon Wolfson, and Selfridges, which has undergone a transformation under its Italian boss, Vittorio Radice. We've got four retailers in this year's Top Ten, but who can be sure that retail will be quite so favoured in 2002? Who on earth will make it into the next Top Ten? In the present environment, there is even more uncertainty than usual. One thing's sure: those who run the companies that earn most admiration next year will have shown nerves of iced steel and great powers of leadership.