The World’s Most Admired Companies are Also the Most Innovative

March 10, 2011

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Most Innovative CompaniesCongratulations to the 350 companies that made this year's Fortune magazine World's Most Admired Companies list. According to Fortune, this year's list is particularly interesting “now that the skies are clearing after the worst economic storm in modern history.¦

“Stress in the recession and financial crisis brought out traits that may not have been noticed when the sailing was smooth. Upstarts became champions. Famed competitors fell behind; some didn't make it through the storm.”

In fact, Fortune reports that “the tumult is the greatest we've seen in 13 years of ranking the World's Most Admired. Of the 57 industries studied, 22 are led by new companies this year, the largest proportion ever.”

Therefore, it stands to reason that innovation is one trait that has been attributed to successful companies. Chances are that any company that came out of the recession on top actively innovates its products, services, people management, business model, etc.

It is not surprising that many of the top 50 most admired companies also made the top 10 Most Admired in Innovation list. Apple and Google, of course, topped both lists at Nos. 1 and 2 respectively. (Apple has held the top spot since 2008.)

So what can we learn from these companies?

Throughout the recession, they continued to invest in new staff, green initiatives, offerings, businesses and products that would deliver greater value to their customers. A number of companies on the list made purchases that would allow them to enter new markets and generate a new consumer base.

Amazon.com (No. 7 on the overall list and No. 4 on the most innovative list), for instance, directly targeted Netflix by offering streaming video to Amazon Prime members in February. “It's all part of an effort to strengthen the allure of this one-stop shop that is already top dog among online retailers.”

Other examples include Southwest Airline's acquisition of AirTran, Microsoft's development of Xbox Kinect and McDonald's addition of healthier options (like salads, wraps, oatmeal and apple dippers) to its menu. Southwest, Microsoft and McDonal’s rank Nos. 4, 9 and 10, respectively, on the full list.

The World's Most Admired List is compiled from the results of a Fortune survey that “asked businesspeople to vote for companies that they admired most, from any industry.” Leveraging lessons from this year’s rankings, what can your company do to improve its reputation as an innovation and business leader in the next year?

Kathie