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The World's Most Admired Companies—Look Who's Missing

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Do you admire the company you work for or is it just a paycheck?

What would be some of the factors that would determine this almost incalculable perception of being a "good" company?

Fortune attempted to measure some of these factors by conducting a ranking based on companies and what their admirers (or otherwise) had to say: the result is the "World's Most Admired Companies."

The 2010 edition was released yesterday and there were some clear absentees from the list, as well as some shocking contenders for the "least admired" lists.

Divided into nine categories, the ranking is especially unfavorable for Citigroup.

Already beleaguered from a dismal 2009, their high ranking in almost every (six of the nine) "least admired" category doesn’t bode well and clearly they have their work cut out for them. The Citi that never sleeps managed to be in the Top 10 "least admired" in innovation (No. 5), people management (No. 6), management quality (No. 1), financial soundness (No. 7), and long-term investment (No. 5).

But let's not make this about Citi.

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And remember, this is a ranking based on public perception and the respondents were business executives. This perception can be, and in this case, is quite different from reality. What good a company is doing is not the most easily measurable thing and we end up depending on reputation to make up most of this quotient.

How much good really translates into the perceived notion of doing good?

Let's take a look at the Top 5 companies: Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, and Amazon—all with positive reputations, strong market shares and relative lack of controversy in the media. They all have also consistently emphasized publicly on rewarding innovation and their brands have garnered trust from consumers like few others have.

Especially telling is the category of social responsibility, with UPS taking top honors, followed by Starbucks, Marriott, Walt Disney (Read what CEO Robert Iger had to say about Disney's sustainable initiativesat the WSJ's ECO:nomics Conference last week—where he said employees and potential employees are demanding responsible companies like never before) and Statoil in the Top 5.

See any anomalies? I do.

Companies like Seventh Generation and PepsiCo, which are consciously making strides in becoming more sustainable and socially responsible, are missing. Compare these names to last year's winners and my argument becomes obvious: Anheuser-Busch was No. 1, followed by Marriott, Integrys, Walt Disney and Herman Miller.

As executives and decision makers, there was one other category that attests to how far off the mark good PR and positive reputation building can move consumer and industry perceptions of an employer: people management.

Think of Goldman Sachs, and the first thing that might come to mind is bonuses, traders making risky investments, the golden bank, etc. But does the word "admiration"? Well, in this category, the mega bank takes the No. 1 spot.

Now take a look at this excerpt from Vault's 2009 Banking survey: "Teamwork, consensus building, corporate citizenship and meritocracy" are Goldman’s buzzwords, and insiders boast that "it's a culture of integrity and character, where people genuinely value the perception of the firm." With employees so enamored with the bank's employee management, maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise that outsiders feel the same golden glow from the bank as well? The list's Top 5 get rounded off by Apple, Nike, UPS and Polo Ralph Lauren. And ironically, the worst possible year for investment banks saw Goldman retain its No. 1 spot in this category from 2009, while the other top four all changed hands.

Perception problems or genuine regard?

If you're reading this as a senior executive, you're probably thinking of how your company could make the list. Since it's purely based on reputation, for starters, it seems like some good, solid PR within your industry should do the trick. But if you really want your company to become sustainable and socially responsible, how about starting by recycling and reusing as a small step?

Did your company make this reputational ranking?

Do you agree with the ranking?

Who would you have preferred to see as No. 1 for some of the categories? Leave a comment here or find me on Twitter @VaultCSR!

For the complete ranking, visit Fortune. Compare these with Vault's Annual Rankings of the Top Banking and Accounting Employers, which provide in-depth reviews, buzz and insights into work culture, business outlook and diversity initiatives.

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DIS
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JNJ
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MLHR
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NKE
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UPS
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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at Fortune 1000 companies

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com