Antonio Neri, CEO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, at the NYSE, Oct. 19, 2023
Technology stocks have taken back the No. 1 spot in the JUST 100, an annual ranking of large public companies on issues of key importance to the American public, with Hewlett Packard Enterprise topping last year’s No. 1 Bank of America.
HPE finished first among tech peers, a perennial sector leader in the JUST 100, in three core categories measured by Just Capital: workers, communities, and the environment. Its strong set of employee benefits, including the longest maternity and paternity leave of any company; its efforts within communities to bring workers back into the labor force; and its strict net zero goals and carbon emissions disclosures, were key to rising to the top of the list.
Analysis of worker pay, benefits and opportunities, more than any other measures, are critical to top list performance, with Just Capital’s methodology based on annual polling of the American public and how Americans define “doing right by all shareholders.”
“Worker issues are still front and center,” said Martin Whittaker, founding CEO at Just Capital, the nonprofit research firm founded by hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones and others to identify large public companies that outperform on stakeholder capitalism. The importance of workers has consistently risen in the polling data, and now represents roughly 41% of the JUST 100 methodology, with “paying a fair and living wage” the top issue within this category, representing just under 18% of the methodology.
“It’s always workers and it’s always fair pay,” Whittaker said.
Career advancement opportunities, worker training and development, benefits and retention are other issues which helped push HPE and other companies higher in the 2024 JUST 100 rankings. All of these issues, Whittaker said, “cluster all around the questions of ‘How good am I as an employer?'” he said.
“The competition, it’s fierce for talent,” said Kristin Major, chief people officer at HPE. “It’s also about retaining people who we’ve fought to get to come here, and we want to be happy here.”
HPE has offered six months of paid parental leave since 2019, tied for longest of any company in the Russell 1000 universe reviewed by Just Capital, and a part-time work option for employees transitioning back to professional life after that leave ends.
“A lot of companies don’t have this benefit or are putting it together with disability,” Major said. “Paternity leave is significant and people talk to me about it when they come here.”
Tech’s biggest names drop, but more chip stocks move up
While HPE has risen, other notable tech names have slipped in the annual rankings, including Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet. Of the three, all which remain in the JUST 100, only Apple finished among the top 20.
The JUST 100 experienced significant turnover at the top of the list this year, with six companies new to the top 10: Citigroup, The Cigna Group, Ecolab, Elevance Health, Advanced Micro Devices, and Micron Technology.
Whittaker said it’s not that these companies are losing their focus on key issues, but rather, more companies are joining them, and disclosing more of the information needed for the annual evaluation.
“Those companies aren’t going backwards, but I do think competition is coming up,” he said. “We know disclosure matters and disclose is going up rapidly.”
Disclosure on issues including pay equity by race and gender, and carbon emissions increased year over year across the Russell 1000 universe, according to Just Capital.
Whittaker said that’s also the case with the key worker issues that are the most heavily weighted in the rankings. “The last three or so years marked an acceleration of companies investing in workers and communities, getting really creative, and I think there companies in some other industries that are really getting their act together,” he said.
“It’s not as if they are less committed to it,” he said of the previous years’ top companies. “But companies can’t afford to tread water and assume they will stay at the top.”
More companies are also making the case to employees at a time of intense political division on core ESG issues.
Ecolab, which moved up more than 100 spots to finish in the top 10, has “really amped up their benefits,” Whittaker said, with Just citing its parental leave policies, dependent care and flexible working hours, as well as a very high worker retention rate.
Emilio Tenuta, chief sustainability officer at Ecolab — which works with many major companies including top tech firms on water management that is critical in data centers and will be even more so as advanced AI chips continue to increase in use — said getting employees across its operations, and co-located at data centers and manufacturing sites, to buy into its stakeholder approach to issues including net zero has been key. “It’s EROI,” Tenuta said. “It’s the exponential return on investment. 25,000 employees in the field have that EROI understanding and mindset.”
“We know ESG and any other three letter acronym has become polarizing,” he said. “Organizations that are doing this because ‘its’ right thing to do’ … that intent will fall flat. The commitment needs to be bolstered by delivering on business performance and results, and if you can do that, you can counter the argument, and it gives us a chance to help associates, to say we are growing our business and also having an impact in the world.”
The JUST 100 Index that tracks the top 100 ranked companies has outperformed the Russell 1000 Equal Weighted Index by 38.5% since inception in 2019.
Full rankings and information is available from Just Capital.