The 12 months of 2011 were an exhilarating ride for Apple of Cupertino, Calif. It went through a major leadership transition after the company lost its cofounder Steve Jobs and op-chief Tim Cook took the reigns and appointed several new executives. The iPhone 4S became a huge success and pushed Apple’s market capitalization above the half a trillion-dollar valuation.

Editors at Fortune magazine did not have second thoughts when ranking Apple first on its annual list of World’s Most Admired Companies due to the company’s impending iPad 3 unveiling, off-the-chart sales, and beautiful new retail stores like the upcoming Amsterdam outlet. Seasonal product refreshes and new rumored gizmos (of which an Apple-branded HD TV television set is conceivably everyone’s favorite) helped Apple garner the spot, as well. Mind you, Apple earned this coveted title for five years in a row.

Here’s from the publication’s editors:

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.

Following Apple’s trail is the second-ranked Internet giant Google (No. 1 in Internet Services and Retailing last year). It is another Silicon Valley darling that went through a transition in 2011 as Eric Schmidt passed the CEO reins to cofounder Larry Page in April. Page co-founded Google with Sergey Brin and quickly re-instituted startup mentality that calls for “moon shots” while streamlining the company’s operations.

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. (had 17 new fulfillment centers planned and saw 6 million Kindle Fire shipments last holiday season), Coca-Cola (expanded the brand beyond the sugary sparkling beverages and saw moderate growth of Powerade and Gold Peak Tea), and IBM (experienced revenue growth in BRIC on strong sales of business analytics and had cloud services and Smarter Planet solutions) rounded the top five slots on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list that includes 50 corporations enjoying the best reputation.

Here’s Fortune’s methodology:

The Most Admired list is the definitive report card on corporate reputations. Our survey partners at Hay Group started with approximately 1,400 companies: the Fortune 1,000 (the 1,000 largest U.S. companies ranked by revenue), non-U.S. companies in Fortune’sGlobal 500 database with revenue of $10 billion or more, and the top foreign companies operating in the U.S.

They then sorted the companies by industry and selected the 15 largest for each international industry and the 10 largest for each U.S. industry. A total of 698 companies from 32 countries were surveyed. (Due to an insufficient response rate, the results for 11 companies in the scientific, photographic, and control equipment industry were not published. In addition, due to the distribution of responses, only the aggregate scores and ranks for the 10 companies in the oil and gas equipment/services industry were published.) To create the 58 industry lists, Hay asked executives, directors, and analysts to rate companies in their own industry on nine criteria, from investment value to social responsibility. This year only the best are listed: A company’s score must rank in the top half of its industry survey.

To arrive at the top 50 Most Admired Companies overall, the Hay Group asked 3,855 executives, directors, and securities analysts who had responded to the industry surveys to select the 10 companies they admired most. They chose from a list made up of the companies that ranked in the top 25% in last year’s surveys, plus those that finished in the top 20% of their industry. Anyone could vote for any company in any industry. The difference in the voting rolls is why some results can seem anomalous—for example, although FedEx is one of the top 10 Most Admired Companies, it is second in the Delivery industry behind top-ranked UPS, which ranked 29th on the top 50 overall.

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