Which Companies Do People Respect Most?

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Seth Wenig / AP

Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett

Corporate America's reputation is on the mend. For the first time in four years, the percentage of people saying that the reputation of Big Business is "good" rose from 12% to 18% in Harris Interactive's annual survey of what people think of companies. Respondents thought most highly of tech outfits like Google and Amazon, but they thought poorly of big financial firms and most carmakers, with Warren Buffett–run Berkshire Hathaway claiming the top spot on the list. Among the companies with the worst reputations were General Motors, Goldman Sachs and AIG.

Harris, a market-research firm, polled about 9,000 Americans online at the beginning of the year in order to generate a list of the 60 "most visible" companies, and also asked some 30,000 people broader questions about corporate America's reputation. Each company was then evaluated in areas such as social responsibility, leadership, financial performance, product quality and workplace environment by about 600 people. The top 10 highest-rated companies: Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, Google, 3M, SC Johnson, Intel, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Amazon and General Mills.

The list produced a number of surprises. SC Johnson, which makes household products such as Ziploc, Raid and Windex, debuted on the list in the top 10. That can be chalked up to a recent ad campaign to familiarize consumers with the parent company's name and values, says Robert Fronk, a Harris senior vice president who oversaw the survey. Another newcomer: Goldman Sachs, which made the list for the first time, at No. 56, four spots from the bottom. "Here's a company that members of the public would never interact with suddenly on the list," says Fronk. Credit a slew of bad press about Goldman having its hand in everything from AIG's bailout to the flailing financial state of Greece.

Among the companies that made significant moves from last year's list, Ford made the biggest jump, from No. 51 to No. 37. "CEO Alan Mulally has been out in public making long-term decisions: not taking bailout money, having a vision," says Fronk. "It's a different story going on at Ford than at some of their competitors." Other big gainers included ExxonMobil, Pepsi, Costco, the Home Depot and Southwest Airlines. Among the companies falling the fastest in the rankings were Bank of America, Verizon, Sony, Target and Time Warner (the parent company of TIME).

Financial firms and automakers that took bailout money largely made up the bottom 10. In descending order, they were: Delta Airlines, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, General Motors, Chrysler, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, AIG and Freddie Mac. Industry-wise, tobacco again claimed the worst reputation; last year it shared that honor with financial services, which this year held the second worst reputation. Third worst was insurance. At the top end of the industry-reputation list were technology, travel and tourism, and retail.