GE was rated top of the corporate pops by executives, directors and analysts, who were asked by the US journal to grade companies on an "all-star" rating for corporate performance.
Narrowly behind were other household names such as Sony, Toyota, ABB, Daimler-Benz and British Airways. JP Morgan, McDonald's and Procter & Gamble were also admired.
Fortune's survey also shows that American businessmen most admire American companies. Of the top 25, only five had headquarters outside the US. Just one is from the UK - British Airways.
Fortune said the best companies showed an uncanny ability to capitalise on disarray in emerging markets, with GE pushing for contracts in Thailand in spite of its economic slump. GE has a corporate culture in which executives can take quick advantage of emerging market shifts: when South Korea's currency slumped, cheap raw materials and components led GE to increase its sourcing there.
The diversified electronics giant has been established in Britain since the 1930s and now employs over 21,000 people in 85 locations. Its businesses include aeroengines, appliances, industrial systems, lighting, plastics, power systems, transport systems and NBC, the US broadcaster. It owns GE Capital, one of the world's biggest financial services groups.
In computers, Microsoft slipped to second behind Intel but was rated for its success in attracting and retaining staff.
Royal Dutch/Shell emerged as the most admired oil company. Nestle was top in food, while KLM was first in airlines and Toyota in cars.
Fortune says its survey, compiled by Hay Group, the management consultants, shows that the most admired companies had corporate cultures which differ dramatically from lesser rivals.
"The key priorities were teamwork, customer focus, fair treatment of employees, initiative, and innovation," the magazine claimed. That contrasted with "average companies" which saw the top priorities as minimising risk, respecting the chain of command, supporting the boss and sticking to budgets.Reuse content