The companies business leaders admire the most—and are watching closely

February 1, 2021, 10:30 AM UTC

This story is part of Fortune‘s 2021 World’s Most Admired Companies coverage.

Sheer size can create a virtuous cycle that in turn gets reflected in the scores of Fortune’s Most Admired Companies survey. The scoring system favors companies that excel at multiple facets of management (see the adjoining column for more on our methodology). And the bigger a company is, the more likely its peers and competitors are to avidly seek information about how and why it’s succeeding, and to keep that information at the top of their minds. 

That phenomenon may help explain the perennial top status of Apple, which is not only one of the world’s largest companies, with $275 billion in revenue in fiscal 2020, but also one of the most closely followed by the tech community and business media. We ask survey respondents to rate companies on nine criteria: This year, Apple ranked in the top 10 in eight of those, earning the highest scores of any company in the “quality of products” and “soundness of financial position” categories. 

Target earns similar respect from its peers, also cracking eight out of nine top rankings. After a year when the big-box retailer hired tens of thousands of employees and vastly expanded its curbside pickup and online shopping, respondents gave it the survey’s highest scores for “management quality” and “wise use of corporate assets.” E-commerce and cloud titan Amazon, meanwhile, captured top 10 scores in six categories, with best-overall rankings in “innovativeness” and “value as a long-term investment.” (The latter honor is almost an understatement: A $100,000 investment in Amazon 10 years ago would be worth more than $1.6 million today.)

In addition to the overall All-Stars list, the Most Admired Companies survey tracks 52 industry groups—and among those, some winning streaks rival or even eclipse Apple’s. Berkshire Hathaway, for example, has topped the property and casualty insurance group for 23 years in a row. Walt Disney has been the No. 1 entertainment company for 18 straight years. And in a year when it devoted vital resources to the search for a COVID-19 vaccine, Johnson & Johnson finished first in the pharmaceutical industry for the eighth consecutive time. (Berkshire and J&J join Microsoft, Coca-Cola, and Toyota in another elite category: Those companies have appeared on our All-Stars list every year since 1998.)

Still, while continuity is common, it isn’t the rule. Fresh names reached the top in several other industries, including mining and crude oil production (where miner Newmont won); trucking, transportation, and logistics (where top honors went to Denmark’s Maersk); packaging and containers (International Paper); and financial data services (S&P Global). In consumer foods products, PepsiCo ranked first this year, ending a 15-year run by Nestlé—and capping a year in which Pepsi drew as much attention for its stances on race and social justice issues as it did for its global brand portfolio. 

And in life and health insurance, New York Life took the No. 1 spot for the first time. In its biggest acquisition ever, the 175-year-old company cemented its status as America’s largest mutual life insurer in 2020 by acquiring several business units from Cigna. The takeaway: Sometimes your good repute can scale up along with your business.

This article appears in the February/March 2021 issue of Fortune with the headline, “Industry standouts as ranked by their peers.”

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