Which companies are ‘Most Admired for HR’? Here are the leaders

About this feature: Korn Ferry teams with Fortune each year to determine the World’s Most Admired Companies—based on the 1,000 largest U.S. companies ranked by revenue and non-U.S. companies in Fortune’s Global 500 database with at least $10 billion in annual revenues. Korn Ferry then selects the highest-revenue companies in each industry, surveying a total of 645 companies from 27 countries, creating a total of 52 industry lists. Organizational leaders and industry analysts then rate each company in their industries on nine criteria. To arrive at HRE’s Most Admired for HR rankings, Korn Ferry recalibrates the Fortune attribute scores, isolating criteria relevant to HR: management quality, product/service quality, innovation and people management.

Change is a constant in the world of HR today. The shifts driving HR transformation are also changing the organizations and industries on the leading edge of HR excellence, according to the rankings of this year’s Most Admired for HR list.

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The 19th annual list, compiled by Korn Ferry and HRE, reveals a leaderboard that looks markedly different than in years past, with 16 of the top 50-ranked companies not having appeared in this top bracket on the 2022 list.

This year’s No. 1-ranked organization tells the tale of change: DHL Group, a Germany-based global delivery company, was ranked 292nd last year.

Among the factors driving its people success is an emphasis on learning and development, says Mark Royal, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry who leads the annual World’s Most Admired Companies research. Although the organization is expansive, with 1,400 offices and sites around the world, DHL “thinks small” when it comes to L&D. “They’re investing in long-term training for site leaders and team leaders on the ground,” Royal notes. And the company utilizes the same training material across all sites, which “breeds a unified culture, focus and priorities all around the world.”

Mark Royal, Korn Ferry
Mark Royal, Korn Ferry

“They work to blend culture and learning and development to help people understand why they are being asked to develop particular skills and behaviors,” Royal says. “And they also focus on impacting the day-to-day experiences of people within their teams, a key retention factor.”

DHL Group’s people strategy is also influenced by its customer focus. For instance, it uses a customer satisfaction index and brings together new and existing customers to share experiences, “which has helped strengthen relationships,” Royal says.

Megabanks lead in Most Admired for HR

Other big movers among the top 10 include No. 6 Occidental, a U.S.-based mining and crude oil production company, which jumped 175 spots. Meanwhile, megabank leaders JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs rose 236 and 129 places to claim the ninth and tenth places, respectively.

Indeed, the megabank industry saw some of the biggest movers of the year.

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Matt Norquist, Korn Ferry senior client partner and advisory lead for Financial Services, notes that “elevating the organizational impact of HR is a shift companies in the [megabanks] sector are attempting to execute in different forms.”

For instance, Morgan Stanley turned HR into an “operating function with real influence in strategy and guidance in business management, notably moving the former head of wealth management and institutional client coverage to lead HR.” The outcomes of that work were among the factors that pushed its ranking from 189 to 19 between 2022-23. Meanwhile, Citigroup—which jumped 276 places to rank 174 on the 2023 list—has “developed a world-class executive assessment function to review all internal and external executive candidates using company and market benchmarking,” Norquist says.

New standouts and longtime leaders

The megabanks industry wasn’t the only one with organizations well-represented on the Most Admired for HR list. For instance, six of the top 50 companies are in the semiconductor industry, including three in the top 10: Taiwan Semiconductor (3), Nvidia (4) and Advanced Micro Devices (7).

“Following a pandemic-driven technology focus amid lockdowns and the shift to remote work, strong demand for chips to support expanding AI applications has been a recent boon for the sector,” says Royal. “Nvidia, for instance, saw its stock price triple in 2023.”

While the 2023 list was rife with change, several longstanding, big-name organizations maintained their status as leaders in HR excellence—including No. 2-ranked Apple (the top-ranked organization in 2022), UnitedHealth Group, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Visa and PepsiCo. Meanwhile, former standouts like the 2021 top-rated organization, Walt Disney Co., ranked 37th on the 2023 list, while Amazon.com fell 21 places to No. 27.

More Most Admired: Korn Ferry analysts on the key role of culture in sustaining organizational performance

Those organizations that consistently have ranked high, Royal says, represent several industries and face unique people challenges, yet they share some common elements in their talent approach. In particular, they emphasize culture and view it as a “driver of success when aligned with business and talent objectives,” he notes.

They are also adept at balancing long-term objectives and short-term demands, while regularly engaging in strategic workforce planning. Top-ranked organizations prioritize employee development, with a particular focus on continuous growth and flexible career paths. And when it comes to hiring, they place a higher value on “learning agility and curiosity” than particular career experiences, Royal says, “emphasizing what leaders and employees can learn and apply in the future ahead of what they have done in the past.”

Learn how leading organizations are leveraging culture to advance HR excellence at the upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas. Register here.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].