Disney takes top spot as company most admired for HR

The entertainment giant moved past Apple and Netflix, while Best Buy jumped 256 spots to No. 10 on the annual list.
By: | November 12, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images)

The Walt Disney Co. has earned the crown for Most Admired for HR for 2020, unseating two-year No. 1 titleholder Apple and jumping past second-ranked Netflix. Toyota and Amazon round out the top five on the definitive report card of corporate reputations.

Disney’s ratings improved on all four attributes that make up the rankings, with its greatest gains on the two talent-related attributes: management quality and people management. The other attributes are product/service quality and innovation.

Mark Royal of Korn Ferry

“Notably, as Disney ranked No. 1 in the entertainment industry on both of these attributes in 2019 as well as 2020, the gains reflect building on reputational strengths,” says Mark Royal, senior director at Korn Ferry, which teams up with Fortune each year to determine the World’s Most Admired Companies, on which the Most Admired for HR listings are based.

Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president and CHRO of Disney, credits the company’s HR team with supporting the workforce and making a difference.

“All companies and employees are facing extraordinary circumstances this year, ours included, and our HR team has done work that is both compassionate and creative,” Parker says. “We’ve placed relentless focus on anticipating our employees’ needs and making certain our leaders have the tools they need to support their people as we move forward.”

Several companies, including Amazon at No. 5 and Alphabet at No. 7, re-joined the list this year, thanks to more available information in their industries. Others made significant jumps, resetting the rankings with their entrance into Top 20 and Top 50. The data was collected by Fortune in late 2019 and recalibrated for Human Resource Executive’s annual Most Admired list based on the four HR attributes.

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Best Buy made, by far, the biggest improvement on the list, launching 256 places to land at No. 10. Like Disney, its ratings improved across all four attributes, moving it into the top spot among specialty retailers on all four. Also like Disney, its biggest improvements for 2020 came in management quality and people management.

Related: Most Admired for HR: Why some organizations keep getting transformation right

In 2019, the company also earned spots on Forbes’ America’s best companies for women (No. 7 of 300) and Indeed’s 50 top-rated workplaces (No. 39), signs it is boosting its workplace reputation.

Other big moves in the Top 20 included Toyota, up six spots to No. 4; Nike, up from No. 19 to No. 8; and Next Era Energy, a utility based in South Florida, which improved 14 spots to No. 13.

Related: See who else made the Top 50 Most Admired for HR

Another newcomer to the Top 20 and the second-biggest mover overall was food processor Tyson Foods. The Arkansas-based company came in at No. 14—up 78 spots from its 2019 ranking of No. 92.

Tyson Foods CHRO Johanna Söderström

Chief Human Resources Officer Johanna Söderström credits the company’s decisions and actions around “putting people first” for the dramatic improvement in its ranking, which showed up consistently in all four areas measured in the executive summary score. Other important factors were corporate ownership of certain areas of management; implementing technology to help manage the workforce of 141,000 mainly hourly “team members,” as the company calls them; and promoting a culture of collaboration between new, skilled HR employees and Tyson’s HR veterans, she says.

Söderström herself is among the newest HR employees. Previously with Dow Chemical, she joined Tyson in June as executive vice president and CHRO, replacing Mary Oleksiuk, who retired after eight years with the company.

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Recent acquisitions, including Hillshire Brands in 2014 and Keystone in 2018, also helped fuel change, Söderström says. Hillshire, with a more retail-focused business, brought in an HR business partner model to complement the existing operational model at that time. Keystone, as well as Thai and European acquisitions in 2019, brought a more international perspective to the company.

Tyson also launched on Workday about a year ago. “It’s a huge step forward,” Söderström says, “but we still have a long way to go.

Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at eclarke@lrp.com.