Eurotunnel is still the pits, say company directors

Eurotunnel, the debt-laden Channel Tunnel operator, is the least admired company out of 260, narrowly beating troubled store group Kwik Save into last place, according to a new survey.

This is the third year running Eurotunnel has languished in the bottom three rankings of the annual survey from Management Today, a specialist magazine. Even the progress on debt rescheduling earlier this year failed to push it higher up the table.

"Eurotunnel is joined in the doghouse by PR disaster-prone British Gas, which fell 38 places to 254th," Charles Skinner, editor of Management Today, said.

The survey is based on the views of the directors of the 10 largest quoted companies in 26 industrial sectors.

Carried out in association with Loughborough University Business School, it asks the directors to rate the companies in their sector on the basis of nine key criteria - quality of management, financial soundness, value as long-term investment, capacity to innovate, quality of marketing, community and environmental responsibility, and the use of corporate assets.

Tesco, the supermarket chain, tops the table as the most admired company, pushing Cadbury Schweppes from the pole position it achieved in 1995.

"The UK's food retailers are the best in the world. Sainsbury's has usually been ahead and Tesco has now broken free of the pack to establish itself as the market leader," Mr Skinner said, pointing to the success of Tesco's loyalty scheme.

In contrast, Kwik Save, caught between superstores such as Tesco and Sainsbury's and the cheaper continental discounters such as Aldi, found itself the least admired company after Eurotunnel.

Last month Kwik Save, run by Graeme Bowler, revealed a plunge in pre- tax profits from pounds 125m to pounds 2.8m. The chain has recently conducted an eight- month review with Andersen Consulting and concluded that it should retain its marketing position as a discount supermarket while moving slightly up-market.

The second most admired company was Burford, a quoted property company run by Nigel Wray. Its shares have more than doubled since the beginning of 1995 and risen fivefold in the past four years.

Deals such as the acquisition of Trocadero, an underperforming leisure site in central London, have helped win it admiration in getting in and out of the property market at the right time, Mr Skinner said.

He said Next, now third in the admiration stakes, had achieved one of the "greatest ever turnarounds" after its disaster status of the late 1980s.

Marks & Spencer, fourth most admired company by its peers, was once again top of the league table in the "free" vote allowed to directors to cast their opinions outside their sector.

Year after year, the same companies rank highly in the table - including M&S, Glaxo Wellcome, SmithKline Beecham and Reuters.

For the first time, a clutch of engineering companies rank highly, according to Mr Skinner.

Spirax Sarco, a Cheltenham-based steam engineering specialist, enters the table for the first time at 9th, despite the slower-than-expected rise in first-half profits it reported in September.

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