This year marks the 15th anniversary for Fortune's list of the World's Most Admired Companies. In that span only three companies -- GE, Berkshire Hathaway, and P&G -- have ranked first in their industry every time. This year's all-star list is led by tech companies, and Apple takes the No. 1 spot.
The survey shows that the tumult in the business world continues: A record 30 companies supplanted last year's industry leaders at the top of their categories. The previous record? Last year, when 23 usurpers took the No. 1 spot.
To say it was another big year for Apple would be a gross understatement. With the passing of Steve Jobs, questions swirled around the company's future. But under new CEO Tim Cook's guidance, Apple continues to prosper. The company's annual revenues climbed to $108 billion, led by an 81% increase in iPhone sales -- a jump that doesn't factor in the runaway success of the iPhone 4S -- and a 334% spike in iPad sales, due in no small part to the revamped iPad 2. Increased sales across the board explain why shares soared 75% during the company's fiscal year to $495.
For Google, 2011 proved a period of transition. Eric Schmidt passed the CEO reins onto co-founder Larry Page in April, who not long after essentially streamlined the company into six major product areas, including search, social, mobile, and ads. Google made several acquisitions, spending $12.5 billion for Motorola Mobility and $125 million for Zagat, among others. Consumer-facing services like Gmail, YouTube, and Google Reader saw significant updates, and the company finally unveiled its social network, Google+. Android also continued to dominate. According to Andy Rubin, SVP of mobile, 700,000 Android devices are now activated every day.
Unlike many other large tech companies, Amazon is comfortable sacrificing profits in the short-term for long-term gains. That's why, despite the fact that 2011 revenues climbed to $48 billion, net income dropped 55% to $631 million. The company leveled much of its capital at expansion efforts, including plans to open 17 new fulfillment centers. Later in the year, Amazon unleashed the Kindle Fire, a tablet which by one estimate may have sold sold as many as 6 million units last holiday season.
The soda industry may be struggling, but Coke has managed to hold onto its position through the storm. The beverage giant leads the industry in market share despite the fact that sales of its original Coca-Cola brand having flat-lined. It's done so by expanding the brand beyond the sugary sparkling beverages. Coke has also seen a moderate growth in its still beverage brands, including Powerade and Gold Peak Tea.
In 1911, Big Blue was born from the merger of three disparate-seeming businesses to become the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company. Fast forward a century later, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary with record annual profit of $15.9 billion, a 7% year-over-year increase. Much of that came from healthy revenue growth in BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- business analytics, cloud services, and Smarter Planet, IBM's ongoing campaign to solve real-world problems, from traffic congestion to water management.
While the global carrier faced some recession-related setbacks, it fared better this year. FedEx serves as a bellwether for the economy in general, and it seems as id people are shipping again. In December 2011, FedEx reaffirmed its positive guidance for 2012. And in the first quarter of 2012, FedEx boosted its net income to $497 million, up 76% from the same period the previous year. The company's stock is also up 9% year-to-date. What's more, FedEx continues to combat one of the main challenges to its business, the cost of fuel, by adding more efficient aircraft to its fleet. The company plans to purchase 27 new 767-300F aircraft by 2018.
Berkshire Hathaway remains one of the most admired companies in the Fortune 500, due to the sage leadership of its CEO Warren Buffett. In a poll, Fortune readers voted Buffett the business person of the year for 2011. Buffett suggested that most likely happened because he's been outspoken about his opinion that America's wealthiest citizens should pay a greater percentage of their income in federal taxes than they currently do. In this year's annual letter to shareholders, Buffett also outlined his thoughts on why investing in stocks still beats investing in gold and bonds. Berkshire has also begun to welcome some tech companies into the fold. Last November, Berkshire purchased shares in Intel, DirecTV and IBM.
Since returning to Starbucks in 2008, Fortune's 2011 Businessperson of the Year has restored the iconic company he founded and taken it to new heights, posting record revenue and profits. Schultz distinguished himself in another way in 2011, taking steps to raise funds for job creation and to fight political dysfunction in Washington. The White House paid attention.
Procter & Gamble has had to make major changes to adjust to a challenging consumer market. The world's largest consumer-products company is up against slow growth in developed markets. To offset those problems, P&G will cut 1600 jobs, the company announced in January, which should save $240 million. P&G will also continue to focus on growing its businesses overseas, which account for 80% of the company's sales growth and 37% of its total sales. This year, P&G is also gearing up for the 2012 summer Olympics with an accompanying marketing push at that it predicts will bring in $500 million in incremental sales.
Like most airlines, a key part of the business plan for Southwest is keeping fuel prices down. The recent spike in the cost of oil to above $100 caused Southwest to slightly raise the price on its flights, a move that many other carriers have copied. Southwest beat expectations for earnings in the fourth quarter, reported in January, and expanded its reach thanks to its purchase of AirTran in May. Frankly, if any company has the chops to face a turbulent market, it is Southwest. Unlike several larger companies, it has tremendous brand strength as a reliable, low-cost carrier.