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Apple may be world's most admired company, but some Florida companies are not too far behind

Published Mar. 2, 2012

Okay, so not every company can be Apple, an innovation machine valued at a half-trillion dollars. Even without Steve Jobs, Apple once again tops Fortune magazine's annual ranking of the "world's most admired" companies.

Still, 10 Florida companies made the list. Among them: Tampa Bay's own Tech Data Corp., Raymond James Financial and Jabil Circuit, along with nearby Publix Super Markets.

Give deserved kudos to Florida's 10, but let's dig a bit more. What makes the world's most admired businesses worthy of being so respected or, more to the point, worthy of emulating?

Among Florida's elite, there's much to appreciate in how Jabil Circuit globally measures, opens and closes its assembly plants to best leverage its capabilities. But I would look less to Jabil, and more to Raymond James Financial as a role model in social responsibility. Yet Raymond James does not stand out as an innovator. Tech Data's not necessarily the very best at anything but is very good at everything measured by Fortune.

Even Apple – currently the closest corporation on the planet approaching business perfection when it comes to admiration – lagged behind companies like McDonald's, Starbucks and Disney in some individual categories.

Think of the competition to get on Fortune's list as the Olympic decathlon of the company world. The winners don't always place first, but over many different events, they outperform the rest of the crowd.

To assemble Fortune's Most Admired each year, the Hay Group management consulting firm surveys executives, directors, and industry analysts to compile data on 1,400 companies. Included are the 1,000 largest U.S. companies ranked by revenue, foreign companies in the Fortune 500 data base with revenue of $10 billion or more, and top foreign companies operating in the United States. Overall, a total of 698 companies from 32 countries were surveyed.

The survey produced scores on each company by industry, based on nine attributes of reputation. Among those measures: How innovative and socially responsible is each company? How good are they at managing their people and finances? How good are their products? How globally competitive do they seem to be?

Just to appear as a "most admired" company, each firm has to score in the top half of its industry survey.

Clearwater IT distributor Tech Data made the list with consistent 3's and 4's – meaning it ranked 3rd or 4th in its industry – across all nine attributes. That earned it an overall third place in its industry.

St. Petersburg investment firm Raymond James scored mostly 4th and 5th place rankings, achieving its top mark (3rd place) for its social responsibility. It scored lower for innovation. Combined, those scores placed RayJay fourth among non-Wall Street securities firms.

Jabil Circuit, the St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer, scored well enough as a manager of people and corporate assets to offset lower scores on social responsibility, innovation and product quality. These are relative scores, remember, since Jabil was competing in this survey against such technology giants as semiconductor hot shot Intel and Texas Instruments.

Publix got superior marks for its use of corporate assets (ranked 1st among food and drug stores), and also scoring high on management and product quality.

Another Florida company that excelled in Fortune's survey is NextEra Energy, the parent company of South Florida's big utility, Florida Power & Light. NextEra, which is also big on alternative energy projects in solar power and wind farms, scored top marks (first place) in four of nine industry categories: innovation, social responsibility, product quality and global competitiveness.

On the less flattering side of the survey, two Florida companies did not fare so well. Miami's Burger King Holdings fared poorly in this survey, ranking last in its industry among 10 food services companies.

Tampa's WellCare Health Plans, which provides managed health care services to government sponsored health care programs, also was surveyed by Fortune but did not qualify as a "most admired" company.

In fact, the survey bulls-eyed WellCare as the No. 1 "least admired" company for global competitivness – worse than such companies as Jack in the Box, Cracker Barrel and SOMETHINGMISSING??.

Admired or not, WellCare shares have soared since March 2009 – the modern low of U.S. stock markets – from under $7 to nearly $70.

Does this mean high rankings as a "most admired" company means little to the bottom line?

Doubtful. Better to wonder how much higher WellCare's stock might have climbed had the company, which only now seems to be getting over some serious image problems of recent years, proved worthy of admiration.

The good news? WellCare could have been crumbling retailer Sears Holdings, ranked as the least admired U.S. corporation in the entire Fortune survey. Of course, even Sears bettered the worldwide least admired company: motor vehicle parts maker China South Industries Group.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

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