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What does it take to get on the ‘most admired’ list?

Apr 04, 2008 Business Daily, Management


1. Apple
2. General Electric
3. Toyota Motor
4. Berkshire Hathaway
5. Proctor & Gamble
6. FedEx
7. Johnson & Johnson
8. Target
9. BMW

Fortune (March 24 2008)

Fortune magazine and Hay Group give us the World’s Most Admired Companies list every year. Only companies with revenue in excess of US$ 10 billion are considered – so don’t start looking for a Kenyan entry anytime soon.

Apple’s being at the top of the current list is no surprise – but it is thought-provoking. This was a company on the verge of bankruptcy just over a decade ago. Its products were receiving little acceptance from an increasingly dubious customer; its market share was in seemingly inexorable decline; and its financial position was increasingly precarious.

Once its founder, Steve Jobs, returned to the helm, however, the ‘halo effect’ was back. Apple now has its groove back – and how. It enjoyed phenomenal success with its iconic iPod music player (more than 100 million sold around the world). The newly revitalised brand then transferred its mojo to Apple’s ailing Macintosh computer range. Some astute moves that allowed for near-seamless exchange of documents with Windows-based machines led many to make the switch (this columnist included). The new iPhone and super-slim MacBook Air are breathtaking design accomplishments. Apple’s customer base displays near-religious fervour for its products – and that is the holy grail of business achievement.

Some of the others are no less innovative. FedEx can now transfer highly delicate goods (like human organs, believe it or not) in specially wired packages so that both shipper and recipient can track progress, temperature and humidity at all times. Costco (11th on the list) introduced markedly larger rotisserie chickens in its stores and sold them at a discount. How? By feeding them more and letting them live longer! US$100 million worth of birds sold as a result is not, shall we say, chicken feed.

Some companies make the list by staying ahead. Way ahead. When Toyota launched its Prius hybrid in 2000, there was no petrol problem. Fuel was cheap, so why introduce a fuel-efficient high-economy machine – that too, in gas-guzzling America? Full marks to Toyota’s futurists, who saw which way the world would go and made their big bets for the future. 1.8 million Priuses sold to date tell their own story.

That may look like a strangely disparate bunch of companies up there, but they share all the fundamentals of good business. They are superbly led; they stay unique; they build remarkable brands and emotional connections with customers; they manage to get ordinary employees to do extraordinary things; and they take risks. Business has never been about anything else.

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