But, as with other management enthusiasms, it is a concept that many talk about and few live up to. It is also apparent that it is not fully understood because, while chief executives are much more likely to talk about shareholder value than earnings per share these days, their emphasis is often purely on the financial aspects. As last Friday's 1997 British Quality of Management Awards demonstrated, value creation is linked with a much broader range of measures.
The awards also added to the growing belief that there is a small group of UK companies capable of competing on the global stage. Marks & Spencer topped the table for the fourth consecutive year and Glaxo Wellcome, in second place, has previously come third twice and second once.
The leading companies were described as "worthy role models" by Sir Denys Henderson, chairman of the Rank Organisation and a non-executive director of Mori, which sponsors the awards with PA Sundridge Park's Management Centre. But he reminded those seeking to emulate them that the creation of value was "a hard discipline, embracing many facets of management".
Writing in the report on this year's winners, he added: "I am convinced that those companies who do deliver shareholder value have moved beyond thinking of it as a purely financial measure. Rather, they see it as an attitude of mind, requiring managers to create real value for customers, employees, the community at large and their shareholders in an inclusive and holistic way."
Geoff Smith, an independent financial analyst, said "the case for linking quality of management to shareholder value is proven" by the fact that pounds 100,000 invested in January 1993 in the 11 companies that had been nominated for the award in each of its five years would have been worth pounds 245,000 by December 1997; the same sum put into the FT-SE 350 would have grown to only pounds 180,900.
Even so, much effort goes into managing what Gavin Barrett at PA calls "leaky bucket". This means it is only when value created exceeds value destroyed that shareholders see a net gain. "In our analysis of the QMA data," he said, "we find that usually there is a clear recognition of actions likely to create value. However, we find also a serious, even alarming lack of understanding of what destroys value. Too often, the cost of neglect of one or more inputs more than offsets the benefits gained through active management. Value inevitably is destroyed."
In short, the best companies had fewer leaky buckets, though he pointed out that even the best-performing companies could improve in this area, largely through seeing beyond the more obvious forms of countering value destruction, such as restructuring and downsizing, to other levers for dealing with it.
He particularly urged companies to see the links between such aspects of management as people development, project management and the use of research and value creation.
The awards are based on the views of City analysts, business and financial journalists and captains of industry, who are asked to identify the keys to successful management from a list of criteria and explain what keeps the leaders ahead of their competitors. The criteria range from brand development and career development, through effective use of information and general management skills, to innovation and project management.
Throughout the five years the various groups have diverged in their views - with, for example, a conflict between industry's focus on people development and the City's emphasis on investment planning. But gradually the City has paid more attention to non-financial measures, and innovation has moved up the rankings.
Coming days before Richard Branson urges British companies to seek new and better ways of doing business, the acknowledgement of the importance of innovation is significant. Trevor Davis, a management consultant at Coopers & Lybrand, will be appearing ahead of Mr Branson on the Department of Trade and Industry-sponsored satellite link with 37 audiences around the country. He said a recent report on innovation that he had co-authored indicated a similar premier group in this area. Moreover, various studies of fast-growth companies showed that the most successful entrepreneurial organisations shared certain characteristics with larger organisations that were well-managed and innovative.
That so many trends are converging adds to the conviction of Mori and PA that they have established a model that goes a long way to explaining the causes of sustainable success. Now those companies not featuring among the high-flyers at least know where they should start in attempting to raise their game.