The annual list of the country's most admired companies was released by Fortune this week. While the big news appears to be that Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) was toppled by Dell Computer (NASDAQ:DELL), I'm not surprised. Certainly, you couldn't be all that surprised either.

Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer, yet it's been putting out image-scorching fires lately. Among them: disputes with organized labor and the vocal objection of mom-and-pop stores who are being displaced by the company's ambitious expansion. Even if Wal-Mart is right, there is no escape without a scrape from these highly publicized criticisms.

At least the company produced a solid December quarter. It was the first time its earnings topped the $10 billion mark. Yet admiration is a fickle thing, dictated by the court of public opinion. So it's within reason to see not only Dell reign supreme, but also General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), with Wal-Mart coming in at a humbling fourth this year.

Yet the one thing that did floor me about the list was that Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRKa), which ranked second last year, fell five notches this time around. What's the deal with that? Last I heard Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger weren't out robbing convenience stores or ripping out mattress tags.

I was also surprised to see that the thousands of executives polled in compiling the list bring themselves to nudge Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) into the top 10. The stock has quadrupled over the past year. Not that share appreciation seems to matter much, as three of the top four companies have provided a negative total return over the last five years. Still, Apple has practically single-handedly saved the music industry -- and, oh right, it makes some pretty nifty computing devices, too.

I know, my own top 10 list would be rubbish. I guess that's why it's great that Fortune puts out this list every year to try to form some kind of consensus on corporate greatness. We can all ultimately agree to disagree -- and that, I think, is something worth admiring.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wants to know how many babies need to be kissed before The Motley Fool cracks into Fortune's Top10 list. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.