December and the turn of another year. The past 12 months have been hard work for most in business, and a war in Iraq has not helped. It is still not clear when and where those green shoots of economic recovery are going to start popping through the corporate earth. Apparently, there's a confirmed sighting between the paving stones in the City, where investment bankers are eagerly expecting far bigger annual bonuses in their pay packets this month.

The end of the year is also the time for our eagerly awaited poll of who's up and who's down in the corporate firmament. The Most Admired Companies survey, now in its 14th year, is extremely important because those who have done well earn the respect of their most severe critics - their competitors. The judgments of those against whom we compete can be harsh but they are often accurate, because they are the most aware of our strengths and weaknesses.

This year we record a remarkable clean sweep for Tesco. The supermarket has won not only Most Admired Company but its CEO Sir Terry Leahy also wins Most Admired Leader. Leahy is at the peak of his powers at the moment and now has his sights fixed on pushing those trolleys abroad.

While Tesco rides high, the telecoms sector is down in the pits. The Most Admired sector score of 411 was the lowest ever recorded, showing that confidence has evaporated. With this in mind, we've cast an appraising eye over Li Ka-shing's subsidiary 3, which has suffered a difficult birth and now desperately needs to find the elusive 'killer application'. When I was given one of its phones to play with in London there was definitely no taking of life - I could not get the thing to work properly.

Also coming in from the Far East and making his first appearance in the Top 10 Companies group photoshoot is James Murdoch. After the terrible kerfuffle surrounding his appointment, I don't envy him his new job as BSkyB boss. The eyes of the world are now on the 30-year-old, watching and waiting for him to stumble. What surprised me about the case against him - apart from the fact that he is Rupert's son - was the spuriousness of some of its content. He used to sport dyed blond hair, a stud above his eyebrow and two tattoos. Appalling. He founded a hip-hop label called Rawkus, one of whose first signings was the band Whorgasm. Beyond the pale. (Rawkus, incidentally, is now a highly fashionable label on the New York music scene.)

Critics would do well to remember that Branson began with hair well over his collar when he sold LPs from a phone box. If James proves to be even a small chip off the old block, he might become quite a business force in his own right.

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