Unilever has the knack for making admiration last

EDITOR'S BLOG: It's hard to stay at the top of your game but Unilever, this year's 'Most Admired Company', is one business that's managed it.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 19 Jan 2016

The year turns and it's the 25th anniversary of Britain's Most Admired Companies. It's hugely to the credit of Unilever's management that they have stuck to their sometimes controversial strategic guns, irritated city shareholders who wrote them off as a naive tree-hugger and come out on top again this year (the firm's first win was in 2010). Well done to them. Professor Mike Brown who has been running the BMAC numbers for the last quarter-century gets an espresso-flavoured Magnum to keep him going.

Being admired and successful is one thing but being durable over the long term is far tougher. Unilever is one of only two survivors from the top 20 of the first list in 1990, the other being Shell. Who will still be there in 2040? I wouldn't bet on many retailers making it - there isn't a single one in the top 10 this year.

We're especially pleased that easyJet boss Carolyn McCall has won Most Admired Leader. (We have no influence over the result.) MT has championed her cause right back to her days at the Guardian and she has been a loyal supporter of our long campaign for the advancement of women in business. With easyJet's profits charging ahead and a share price quadruple what it was when she took over five and a half years back, in the discreet world of executive search, she must now have one of the highest prices on her head in the whole of Europe.

Read More: Britain's Most Admired Companies 2015

Contrast Audi and the tale of my visit to Ingolstadt to interview the embattled chairman, Rupert Stadler. He has a valuable brand to defend in the fight of its - and his - life. The message I think I received, while never expressed directly, is that if you're after someone to blame you should be looking to Wolfsburg, the home of the VW parent group, and not its sister Bavarian brand. Incriminating email trails notwithstanding, this might just work. While VW sales are down, Audi's quadruple halo appears relatively unblemished by the scandal thus far.

When I returned from Munich to Gatwick, it was a sorry mess. Broken transits and a queue of 40 minutes to get through immigration. Even worse was another 40-minute queue just to buy a train ticket. Welcome back to UK plc - land of dashed travel hopes. Enter Trainline and its CEO Clare Gilmartin whom we also profile. I use her app a lot. However she needs to pay attention to her push into European ticket sales. You'll struggle for hours trying to buy an Italian train ticket. By contrast when I logged onto the Trenitalia site fully expecting to be greeted by a Latin digital basket case, I'd bought four Ancona-Venice singles within two minutes. For 88. What a bargain.

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