World's most admired companies

Written by:
March 11, 2019
Updated on March 14, 2019
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World's most admired companies

Companies are the sums of their cultures and decisions: Money doesn't tell the whole story. A successful company needs much more than a profitable year to win the respect of its customers and keep employees happy.

Stacker looked to Fortune's top 50 most admired companies (last updated January 2019) to get a better picture of which companies stand out amongst the rest. To make the list, Fortune partnered with global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry to create, distribute, and analyze a survey of company reputations around the world. The study started with 1,500 companies: the 1,000 biggest companies in the U.S. ranked by revenue; and companies outside the U.S. with revenues exceeding $10 billion from Fortune's Global 500 database. From there, Fortune honed the list down to 680 companies in 30 countries with the highest sales in 52 different industries. More than 3,500 executives from those companies voted on the list, ranking businesses on nine factors including investment value to products. Companies had to score in the top half of their respective industries to make the final list.

The 3,750 directors, executives, and securities analysts who took the industry surveys were then tasked with going through high-ranking companies from last year's surveys, including companies listed in the top 25% and companies that ranked in the top 20% of their respective industries.

Here, Stacker explores Fortune's list of the world's most admired companies, reviewing the details behind each company and likely reasons for inclusion on this list. Company histories and discussions about their legacy are included. Read on to find out the top dogs in the world of business.

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#50. Samsung Electronics (tie)

Industry: Electronics

Samsung started out in 1938 as a trading company that later invested profits into electronics development (among other industries). The company had a quick response to its “exploding battery” scandal in previous years: Production of the culprit, the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, was permanently stopped in the name of consumer safety. Recently in 2018 Samsung created QLED (quantum dot light-emitting diode) TVs with ambient modes that specifically did not require an always-on camera, which is a privacy concern.

#50. Exxon Mobil (tie)

Industry: Petroleum refining

In the eyes of many, Exxon has come a long way from the 1989 oil spill and the ensuing lawsuits that made the company infamous. Created in 1882, Exxon made a recent investment in American drilling (as opposed to overseas) and a public commitment to renewable energy.

#49. Charles Schwab

Industry: Securities and asset management

Charles Schwab was founded in 1971, and in 2018 became more open about its desire to not let cost be a factor for people who wanted to invest with them. The company also saw massive success of their charity division.

#48. Mastercard

Industry: Consumer credit card and related services

Founded in 1966, Mastercard wrapped up its less-than-admirable projects in 2018 (including a lawsuit about fees and association with a scandal-ridden university). They earned back some goodwill by working with tokenization to enhance customer security and even venturing into bitcoin. It also deleted data from Indian customers to comply with government regulations.

#47. Nestlé

Industry: Consumer food products

Since 1866, Nestlé has often been associated in people's minds with chocolate candy. But they made the bold decision to sell off the majority of their sweets division in 2018 and move into health-based products. They also debuted a low-sugar version of one of their chocolate bars in the U.K. and Ireland using a new sugar-reducing technology. 


#46. UnitedHealth Group

Industry: Health care—insurance and managed care

Slow and steady growth was the name of the game for UnitedHealth, originally founded in 1977. Their health information and tech firm Optum is attributed as a major reason for that stability.

#45. Publix Super Markets

Industry: Food and drug stores

Named one of America's favorite grocery stores, Publix has been wooing the local market since 1930. They expanded into more specialty grocery stores, created jobs, and raised wages for employees. They even dropped support for a pro-NRA political candidate after protests at their stores.

#44. Facebook

Industry: Internet services and retailing

The youngest company on this list (founded in 2004), Facebook tweaked the news feed in 2018 to show more news from people than brands. Though the company has recently dealt with several reputational challenges: the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, privacy exceptions for ad buyers, and leadership fights.

#43. Caterpillar

Industry: Construction and farm machinery

Caterpillar, founded in 1925, had the foresight to debut in the Chinese market in 2018. The same year, tension in that market caused their stock to nosedive, and it didn't help that the construction company had a major disagreement with the IRS

#42. Visa

Industry: Consumer credit card and related services

Visa's place on this list could be slightly surprising to some: Stock sell-off earlier in the year was only the beginning of bad times for Visa. The company, founded in 1958, has faced data privacy troubles and a #MeToo scandal surrounding its spokesman Morgan Freeman. 

#41. PepsiCo

Industry: Consumer food products

In 2018 PepsiCo lost Indra Nooyi, its first female CEO since its founding in 1965. She is credited for encouraging the company to invest in healthier products, such as Bare Foods and the acquisition of SodaStream. PepsiCo has also made contributions toward ending world hunger.

#40. IBM

Industry: Information technology services

IBM may have started in 1911, but it broke the record for most patents acquired in 2018. IBM debuted a groundbreaking artificial intelligence machine capable of debating with humans. The company has seen overall revenue growth; though they also announced massive layoffs in 2018.

#39. Unilever

Industry: Soaps and cosmetics

Founded in 1930, Unilever saw steady growth in 2018. Unilever has spoke out about animal testing, has made a swift move into the plant-based foods arena, and has threatened to pull advertising from digital networks promoting “toxic” content.

#38. Adidas

Industry: Apparel

Erratic behavior of influencers and a data breach have cast a shadow over Adidas recently. But the company founded in 1949 definitely gets points for innovation, leaning into creative events, and supplying the internationally famous Arsenal soccer team.

#37. McDonald's

Industry: Food services

McDonald's has had a mixed modern legacy, winning favor with fresh beef and eco-friendly straws. But they also have faced a labor lawsuit and sexual harassment protests

#36. Accenture

Industry: Information technology services

Accenture's slogan when it was founded in 1989 may as well have been about helpfulness. A big contract with Sprint cemented Accenture in a position of helping companies streamline their operations. They initiated new open banking initiatives for small businesses and won an award for their work in customer experiences.

#35. CVS Health

Industry: Health care—pharmacy and other services

CVS Health may never have imagined in 1982 that it'd be merging with fellow giant Aetna. This move, on top of pushing virtual care and a new customer membership program, highlights positive strides made by the company. 

#34. Alibaba Group Holdings

Industry: Internet services and retailing

Alibaba finished strong in 2018 after a blip at the beginning of the year. Founded in 1999, they have showed a slow and steady dominance of the ecommerce sector, pausing to diversify by buying things like stakes in an American theater chain.

#33. UPS

Industry: Delivery

Starting in 1907 on foot and bicycle, UPS is now known for delivering packages in their signature brown trucks. But 2018 was a year in which their stock plummeted and they narrowly avoided a major labor strike. 

#32. Target

Industry: General merchandisers

Target's been around since 1902, and it aimed to impress in 2018. The company raised minimum wages for its employees and experimented with innovations to keep customers interested (even though it ate into their earnings).

#31. Procter & Gamble

Industry: Soaps and cosmetics

Procter & Gamble may have earned admiration from other businesses for its 2018 stock turnaround. But this company, which has been around since 1837, earned that comeback through raising prices for its customers

#30. Toyota Motor

Industry: Motor vehicles

Toyota had to deal with airbag issues and a hybrid car recall in 2018, but the company experienced general profit gain and earned favor from car nuts by redesigning the Toyota Corolla and winning the Le Mans 24 hour car race. An accomplishment for a company that's been making cars since 1933.

#29. BMW

Industry: Motor vehicles

The car company founded in 1916 had a rough 2018: The company's cars were responsible for engine fires and unexpected stalling. The company also lowered production and decided to leave the Detroit auto show.

#28. Delta Air Lines

Industry: Airlines

The airline company, founded in 1930, reported improved profits in 2018, but they weren't exactly universally admired by consumers. The company suffered PR trouble due to a technological breakdown and restricted service animal regulations in the same year.

#27. 3M

Industry: Chemicals

Founded in 1902, 3M posted poor growth in 2018. But even worse were the scandals around contaminations, allegations concerning infections from products, water pollution, and even cases of cancers possibly connected to the company.

#26. Goldman Sachs Group

Industry: Megabanks

Goldman Sachs, a company founded in 1869, pledged to invest in women-led companies. But they also got caught up in a Malaysian government fund scandal and fired an executive on maternity leave.

#25. Walmart

Industry: General merchandisers

Founded in 1962, Walmart increased wages and benefits for their employees and expanded their toy selection. Though they also closed Sam's Club locations and laid off thousands of people in top-earning manager roles.

#24. USAA

Industry: Insurance—property and casualty

USAA, founded in 1922, earned their spot on this list despite layoffs and lower employee bonuses; they also offered no-interest loans to members during the 2018 government shutdown. In 2018 the company announced plans to donate $40 million to charity—1% of its pre-tax income. 

#23. Marriott International

Industry: Hotels, casinos, and resorts

Founded in 1927, Marriott saw incredible growth in both net income and acquiring new properties and memberships. However, they also experienced a recent data breach and a worker strike

#22. BlackRock

Industry: Securities and asset management

Associated with the American financial crisis and founded in 1988 at the height of the “greed is good” era, BlackRock took a turn toward social responsibility in 2018. They also offered new products that would enable their customers to avoid supporting gun companies if they wish.

#21. Home Depot

Industry: Specialty retailers

Home Depot has awarded employees bonuses and has increasing its funding for disaster relief efforts. Experts point to its consistent store experience as a secret to its success, though, there have definitely been changes made since its founding in 1978.

#20. Nordstrom

Industry: General merchandisers

Nordstrom experienced a massive data breach and one of its Nordstrom Rack stores had accusations of racism. The same family that founded the chain in 1901 couldn't convince the board to take the company private.

#19. Boeing

Industry: Aerospace and defense

The plane giant founded in 1916 started 2018 with an ostentatious goal: to build a new plane every 11 hours. They didn't quite make their goal—they were short by four planes—but they finished the year beating rival Airbus and issuing relentless cost-cutting measures.

#18. Singapore Airlines

Industry: Airlines

Named the best airline in the world in 2018, Singapore Airlines was founded in 1947 and was once nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies.” Their recent brand revamp was fueled by massive customer surveying, and they can now claim the rights to the longest flight in the world.

#17. Johnson & Johnson

Industry: Pharmaceuticals

Founded in 1886, Johnson & Johnson this years set itself apart by collaborating with 15 companies and organizations to tackle areas in need of medical research. However, they also had a scandal surrounding asbestos in their baby powder products—along with an allegation that executives had known about it for decades.

#16. American Express

Industry: Consumer credit card and related services

American Express' stock reached its all-time high in 2018, attributed to its tendency to look less cyclical than its other credit peers. Rewards for card members and an interest in artificial intelligence to aid customer service also tipped the scales. The company, founded in 1850, also became the first credit card company to operate independently in China.

#15. Coca-Cola

Industry: Beverages

Coca-Cola was set to overcome slow numbers from previous years, restructuring things from within and acquiring companies based around non-soda drinks like tea and coffee. Coca-Cola founders back in 1886 likely never imagined the company would get into CBD-infused drinks.

#14. Salesforce

Industry: Computer software

Founded in 1999, customer relationship management software company Salesforce enjoyed an incredible 30% stock rise in 2018. They achieved this by diversifying their offerings, supposedly to serve their customers' needs. Founder Marc Benioff spoke out against Silicon Valley power plays and social media addiction.

#13. Nike

Industry: Apparel

2018 was the year when Nike distinguished itself with ads featuring Colin Kaepernick and tennis champion Serena Williams. In spite of a sexual discrimination scandal, Nike sold the top athletic shoe of 2018 and continued a distinct legacy originating from its founding in 1964.

#12. Costco Wholesale

Industry: General merchandisers

Costco was named the #1 one place to work in 2018, an achievement for the warehouse retail company founded in 1983. Despite problems within the retail sector at large, Costco raised employee wages and experienced growth as the year went on.

#11. Southwest Airlines

Industry: Airlines

With five new non-stop flights, free in-flight movies, and the elimination of baggage fees, 2018 was a year in which Southwest made changes to serve its customers better. It also marked the first time Southwest had permission to fly to Hawaii since its founding in 1967.

#10. FedEx

Industry: Delivery

FedEx used extra cash influx to raise employee wages and offered voluntary buyouts when things became hard. They also borrowed money to ensure that the employee pension plan was fully funded.

#9. JPMorgan Chase

Industry: Megabanks

JPMorgan Chase as consumers know it originated in 1799 and became hated in 2008 due to ties to the American financial crisis. In 2018, the company indicated interest in reforming health care, in addition to fulfilling predictions of increased growth. It also used extra money from a tax cut to increase wages for employees.

#8. Netflix

Industry: Entertainment

In spite of and maybe even in part because of rejecting the idea of introducing commercials, Netflix has expanded its market share of entertainment enough to seriously cut into TV profits. Not bad for one of the youngest companies on this list: They only broke into the scene in 1997.

#7. Alphabet

Industry: Internet services and retailing

The founders of Alphabet back in 1998 may have never pictured a $8.95 billion profit. The company boasted increased investments in research and additional investment in educational initiatives.

#6. Microsoft

Industry: Computer software

2018 was maybe one of the best years for Microsoft since its founding in 1975. The company's stock soared, partly due to more emphasis on subscription products; they also had time to announce a new gaming console, run a giant Black Friday sale, and expand its growth beyond software businesses.

#5. Starbucks

Industry: Food services

An incident in 2018 led Starbucks' customers to wonder whether the company perpetuated racism. The company—which has been serving up coffee since 1971—handled the scandal in what most considered a thoughtful way. They also sidestepped another “non-Christmas cup” fiasco with their new seasonal designs.

#4. Walt Disney

Industry: Entertainment

2018 was a fantastic year for Disney, founded in 1923 by Walt Disney—the company was approved to acquire 21st Century Fox. Disney also pulled off the release of “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp” all in one year.

#3. Berkshire Hathaway

Industry: Insurance—property and casualty

Berkshire Hathaway may have been founded in 1839, but Warren Buffett (the highly regarded financier at the top of the company) has only been running the show since 1965. He led the company to a good year in 2018 and was explicit about how the company was planning to spend its cash.

#2. Amazon Internet

Industry: Services and retailing

Amazon has been at the center of public debate with the cancellation of its new Queens campus in New York City. However the company, founded in 1994, cleaned up at the Emmys with its original content, validating recent investments. The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, personally) also continued to be profitable.

#1. Apple

Industry: Computers

Apple has prized itself on innovation since 1976. In 2018, they refined their Apple Watch offerings and resumed their reputation for product innovations with AirPods. They also responded in a generally favored way to a battery failure scandal.

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