M&S - the Man Utd of British business

To lifelong football fan Sir Richard Greenbury, this year's Quality of Management Awards were a dream come true that put him on a par with his beloved Manchester United.

The accolade presented to him yesterday gave the Marks & Spencer chairman a hat-trick of wins, while receiving the corporate governance prize for the second year running also brought back-to-back doubles.

But it is not just that M&S can be seen as the Manchester United of British business. British Airways and Glaxo Wellcome, placed second and third respectively, might, in view of their consistency, be termed the equivalents of Liverpool and Arsenal. Last year, Glaxo was second and BA third, while the year before BA was third behind BTR. In 1993's inaugural year the industrial group prevented M&S from making a clean sweep by knocking it into second place ahead of Glaxo.

Since the awards were begun by market research company Mori and management development centre PA Sundridge Park only one other company has featured. ICI won the first quality of governance award in 1994.

The apparent dominance of such a small group led Gavin Barrett, director with Sundridge Park, to remark that there was an "awe-inspiring gap" between them and the pack. One of the objectives of the awards - decided by captains of industry, City institutions and business journalists voting on such criteria as strategy, leadership, brand development and career management - was to identify in which areas British industry as a whole needed to improve.

Evidence of the winning companies' all-round strength was demonstrated by the fact that all were impressive in traditional financial terms. The portfolio of the top-performing companies significantly outperforms the rest of the stock market in such areas as returns on operating cash and market value.

Sir George Russell, chairman of 3i and presenter of the awards, said the focus was on "sustainable creation of shareholder value, arguably the largest piece of unfinished business in UK plc".