Antonio Neri, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, at the NYSE, October 19, 2023
Technology stocks have regained the top spot in the JUST 100, an annual ranking of large public companies on problems of paramount importance to the American public, with Hewlett Packard Company topping last year's number 1 Bank of America.
HPE finishes first among its technology sector peers, a perennial industry leader in the JUST 100, in three main categories measured by Just Capital: workers, communities and the environment. Its robust benefits package, including the longest maternity and paternity leave of any company; its efforts within communities to bring workers back into the job market; and its strict net-zero targets and carbon emissions disclosures were key to rising to the top of the list.
Analyzing worker compensation, benefits and opportunities, more than any other metric, is critical to performance at the top of the list, with Just Capital's methodology based on annual survey of the American public and how Americans define “doing good through all stakeholders.”
“Worker issues are always at the forefront,” said Martin Whittaker, founding CEO of Just Capital, the nonprofit research firm founded by hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones and others to identify big companies public companies that outperform in terms of participatory capitalism. The importance of workers has continued to increase in polling data and now accounts for around 42% of the JUST 100 methodology, with “paying a fair and decent wage” being the top issue in this category, accounting for a just under 18% of the methodology.
“They’re still workers and it’s still fair pay,” Whittaker said.
Career advancement opportunities, worker training and development, benefits, and retention are other issues that have helped propel HPE and other companies higher in the JUST 100 2024 rankings. , Whittaker said, “are clustered around the following questions: 'How good am I as an employer?' ” “, did he declare.
“Competition is fierce for talent,” said Kristin Major, chief human resources officer at HPE. She said that while there was attrition in the tech sector, top talent in key positions was still in conflict. “It’s also about keeping the people here that we fought for and we want to be happy here,” she said.
HPE has offered 26 weeks of paid parental leave since 2019, the longest of any company in the Russell 1000 universe reviewed by Just Capital, as well as a part-time work option for employees returning to work after retirement. end of this leave.
“A lot of companies don’t have this benefit or associate it with disability,” Major said. “It’s important and people talk to me about it when they come here,” she added, citing around 4,000 workers who have benefited from this allowance over the past five years.
HPE also has a “take back the gap” program for bringing workers back into the workforce cited by the nonprofit in its ranking study.
“We are consistently focused on improving operational efficiency and operational leverage for shareholders, but our people are our greatest asset and ultimately they deliver value to shareholders. We are doubling our workforce” , said Antonio Neri, CEO of HPE, in an interview with CNBC on Monday morning.
Biggest Tech Names Fall, But More Chip Stocks Rise
While HPE has advanced, other notable tech names have slipped in the annual rankings, including Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet. Of the three, all of whom remain in the JUST 100, only Apple finished in the top 20.
The JUST 100 saw significant turnover at the top of the list this year, with six new companies in the top 10: Citi Group, The Cigna group, Ecolab, Élevance Santé, Advanced microsystemsAnd Micron technology.
This is good news, according to the association.
Whittaker said it's not that the list's former leaders are losing focus on key issues, but rather that more companies are joining them and disclosing more information needed for the annual assessment.
“These companies aren’t going backwards, but I think competition is showing up,” he said. “We know that disclosure is important and that it is increasing rapidly.”
Disclosure on issues such as racial and gender pay equity and carbon emissions have increased year over year across the Russell 1000 universe, according to Just Capital.
Whittaker said that's also the case for key worker-related issues that are most important in the rankings. “The last three years or so have seen an acceleration of companies investing in workers and communities, getting really creative, and I think there are companies in other sectors that are really pulling together,” he said. he declared.
“It’s not like they’re any less committed to it,” Whittaker said of the biggest companies in previous years. “But businesses can’t afford to tread water and assume they will stay at the top.”
More companies are also making their case to employees at a time of intense political division on ESG issues. And they extend their core business proposition to other areas that contribute to ranking.
Ecolab, which moved up 14 spots to finish in the top 10 — and over the past half-decade, they've climbed hundreds of spots on the list — have “really increased their benefits,” Whittaker said, citing simply its parental leave policies , dependent care and flexible working. hours, as well as a very high worker retention rate. “They're big on sustainability, but that extends to other areas, like being a workforce leader.”
Emilio Tenuta, Director of Sustainability at Ecolab – who works with many large companies on water treatment and safety, as well as leading technology companies on managing the water that is essential in high-utilization data centers, and will be even more so as advanced AI chip usage continues to grow – said it is critical to bring employees from its operations and co-located into data centers and manufacturing sites to adhere to its stakeholder approach on issues such as net zero. “It’s EROI,” Tenuta said. “It's an exponential return on investment. 25,000 employees on the ground have this understanding and this EROI mindset.”
“We know that ESG and any other three-letter acronym has become polarizing,” he said. “Organizations that do this because 'it's the right thing to do'…this intention will fail. Commitment must be reinforced by delivering performance and business results, and if you can do that, you can counter the argument., and it gives us the opportunity to help our associates, to say that we are growing our business and that we are also making an impact in the world,” Tenuta added.
ESG, DEI controversy, AI issues
Whittaker said that as the ESG space has become increasingly controversial – “weaponized” in black rock CEO Larry Fink, who remained in the top 100 at 96th place but failed to lead his sector for the first time in five years, companies are trying to figure out how to address these issues in the context of their specificities. company while striving to be the best employer possible. “They want to be fair and grow in the market and obviously if you have diverse leadership you get a better exchange of ideas and more information, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. Whittaker said. “You need to understand your industry, your stakeholders and your customers. These are deeper level updates and companies are now entering that phase. It's a healthier way to think about DEI and ESG himself.”
“Over the past five years, Ecolab has been involved at the intersection of trends,” Tenuta said. “Consumers are somewhat cynical about these goals, so we need to be more nuanced in tying them to the business case,” he added. Ecolab works with other market leaders including Dow, Starbucks, Microsoft and Meta (the latter two being technology clients) in the Water Resilience Coalition, a group of 37 companies representing $4.8 trillion.
Major said a key focus for HPE going forward, which ties together a key business theme of the technology sector with a focus on workers, is the role of AI in the job market. “This will affect all businesses and all functions, and I think to the extent that we can help with the learning, development and reskilling of team members, that's the future, staying on top and making sure they're trained. We're getting inquiries in gen AI. Employees are looking to the future and saying they want to stay relevant.
In a Monday morning CNBC interview with HPE CEO Paul Tudor Jones cited productivity gains from AI as one of the two biggest problems for the economy (the other being the high level of the country's debt). He expects productivity to double from the recent norm, but capturing those gains and spreading them across society will be a major challenge in maintaining stability, as tens of millions of jobs are lost. 'by 2030 will be threatened.
Amid recent tech job losses and stock market gains for companies like Meta tied to major cost-cutting initiatives, Neri said future AI productivity must be reinvested in the workforce. of work. “We live in incredible times and these technologies will help us be better at what we do, so we can reap workforce benefits and shareholder value,” Neri said. “Empowering people to this new reality is a benefit.”
Most importantly, according to Whittaker, companies that perform well on these fundamental issues of creating stakeholder value also create shareholder value. “Our evidence crushes it,” he said.
The JUST 100 Index, which tracks the top 100 companies, has outperformed the equal-weighted Russell 1000 Index by 38.5% since its inception in 2019.
Complete rankings and information for the JUST 100 are available from Just Capital.