And the Winners Are...

The World's Most Admired Companies list is out. What do the firms have in common?

The top three start with the letter "A." One is owned by the world's most famous investor, while another serves coffee to millions Then there's the airline from Texas. 

What they all have in common, be it Apple or Southwest Airlines, is that they're in top 10 of the World's Most Admired Companies, which for two decades Fortune has compiled with research from Korn Ferry. In all, 50 companies make the list, based in part on executives surveys that rate a number of factors, including their ability to attract and retain talented people, management quality, social responsibility, and innovativeness. 

This year, several key traits were cited in the survey. To thrive in this most disruptive of times, surveyed executives said, organizations need to have its people incentivized properly, and a sense of purpose that everyone agrees with. And then there is ability to adapt. What executives at the world’s most admired companies say is most important is the agility to transform itself on an ongoing basis.

Indeed, 95% of executives surveyed said that organizational agility is a critical focus. “A hallmark of these firms is consistently strong performance and reputations amid changing business conditions,” says Korn Ferry senior client partner Mel Stark.

As part of the project, Korn Ferry surveyed 486 executives across the companies for their thoughts on what made their firms so successful. On several occasions, the executives stressed their agility of the firm and its employees as a major factor. Eighty-four percent of the executives said that their companies are always looking to innovate and capture the next market opportunity (as compared with 66% of executives from peer companies). And more than three quarters said their organizations do a good job of managing the pace of change to ensure that they focus on a reasonable number of priorities and initiatives (versus 59% of executives from peer companies). 

Finally 74% of the executives said that their companies evaluate learning agility in promotion and succession decisions (as compared with 66% at peer companies). “The world’s most admired companies recognize that even in a world increasingly driven by technology, people remain the critical determinant of success,” says Mark Royal, a senior director at Korn Ferry. “These exemplary companies look beyond current needs to develop the organizational capacity to respond in agile ways to opportunities and challenges ahead, with well-developed talent strategies and success profiles for key roles that emphasize the capabilities that will be required for the future.”

The World’s Most Admired Companies

1. Apple
2. Amazon
3. Alphabet
4. Berkshire Hathaway
5. Starbucks
6. Walt Disney
7. Microsoft
8. Southwest Airlines
9. FedEx
10. JPMorgan Chase

Click here to see No. 11-50.

Read about the methodology behind the rankings.