Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Most Admired Company in the UK?

Fortune magazine reveals that the two most admired companies in the US are Apple and Google. Both are innovative and inspirational businesses, with great workplaces and great products.

But the most admired company in the UK, chosen from a survey of executives, directors and analysts, is apparently none other than British American Tobacco (BAT). I couldn't believe that when I first read it. The most admired company in the UK in the corporate world is a business whose products create addiction and kill its customers.

The choice was limited to large businesses but even then there are many UK businesses doing great things: Waitrose and the John Lewis Partnership; Marks and Spencers; Co-operative Bank would all be on my list.

Now BAT has tried to clean up its image. But doing odd bits for the community or the environment cannot make up for the deadly effect of its cigarettes - and the fact it continues to seek to increase sales of and addiction to that product, especially in the third world.

Around twelve years ago, when British American Tobacco was first trying to improve its image, it approached one of the big 5 UK consultancies about employing them to help BAT with its corporate social responsibility. That consultancy responded that it would be delighted to help, provided BAT dropped its main product. They of course weren't prepared to do that and the consultancy, to its eternal credit, showed them the door. If only the whole of the corporate world, and the social responsibility movement, had the same attitude.