Global study of senior executives shows which businesspeople and companies are most admired by peers for their approach to growth

Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin and the late Steve Jobs are the individuals recognised by their peers as leaders and visionaries when it comes to managing business growth, according to research unveiled today.

The research also reveals that Apple, Google and Unilever are the companies that global C-suite business and marketing leaders most admire for their approach to growth. The first two are often seen at the top of lists of the most admired brands and businesses globally, but Unilever’s growth strategy has also clearly been noted and respected by the world’s top businesspeople.

The landmark Growth Drivers Study from Brand Learning is based on surveying over 900 business leaders across 42 countries, as well as in-depth interviews with 70 CEOs and senior executives across companies including Beam Suntory, BT, Diageo, Dyson, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Pernod Ricard, Thompson Reuters, Unilever and Virgin Media.

According to the research, the top ten most admired businesspeople when it comes to driving growth through their vision and engagement are:

1. Paul Polman, Unilever CEO

2. Sir Richard Branson

3. Steve Jobs

4. Gavin Patterson, BT CEO

5. Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media CEO

6. A.G. Lafley, former P&G CEO

7. Allan Leighton, former Asda CEO

8. Amy Hood, Microsoft CFO

9. Ana Botin, executive chairman of Santander

10. Angela Ahrendts, Apple, senior VP, retail & online store

The study highlighted the value of leaders when it comes to growth. It found that Growth Driving leaders are dedicated to strengthening the capabilities of their business and their own leadership skills. Almost half (49%) of business leaders at high growth companies dedicate two or more days per month on personal learning, training and capability development compared with only 27% of those that aren’t Growth Drivers.

It also unveiled a huge appetite for driving agile growth amongst business leaders: 68% want their company to be quick, responsive and experimental and 63% want their company to empower them more.

Mhairi McEwan group CEO and a co-founder of Brand Learning, says: “Organisations need leaders who can create growth among heightened and often competing demands, fuelling momentum behind their goals. The people highlighted by their peers as the cream of the crop when it comes to growth are all known for their success and growth-driving behaviour.”

Furthermore, the ten most admired companies when it comes to handling growth are:

1. Apple

2. Google

3. Unilever

4. Amazon

5. Uber

6. Airbnb

7. Facebook

8. Proctor & Gamble

9. General Electric

10. Nike

Mhairi McEwan continues: “The Growth Drivers Study highlights those companies that have embraced a new model for growth. The senior leaders we interviewed have identified the organisations with an approach they respect: companies that constantly tune their capabilities to create a growth-ready organisation energised by involved employees and fuelled by momentum-driving leadership.

“The inclusion of companies like Uber and Airbnb, which have yet to make the usual top tens of the biggest brands, also shows that business leaders admire companies willing to break the mould and grow quickly by disrupting existing markets.”

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