Investing involves many facets. You can focus entirely on what a company’s price is doing and follow a chart. You can focus on finding companies with hidden assets on their balance sheet, like loads of real estate that are still listed at their purchase price 30 years ago. Both strategies work and have their adherents.
Every investment has these tangible, visible things. However, some of the less-noticed things, the intangible qualities, can provide a better insight than a quarterly earnings report. They can include things like the quality of corporate management. A good manager can make a poor company work, but poor managers can ruin even the best of companies.
That’s part of a broader concept: corporate culture. It’s something you can tell at your workplace rather easily, but it’s a tougher quality to apply to businesses where you’re looking to invest and don’t have a personal connection.
Simply put, a corporate culture is a company’s values, practices and beliefs. It’s an outline of how employees should act, and what the company’s vision is. It’s inclusive of nonprofits as well. It’s a huge intangible that can bring big benefits to investors who pay attention.
Often, a company’s culture is broadcast with a statement of its values. Google (GOOG) infamously had the glass-half-empty statement “don’t be evil” as the motto for their corporate code of conduct, although it was later changed to the more positive “do the right thing.” There’s a more elaborate explanation of what Google means by the phrase, of course, but it expresses the company’s core value in a simple, easy to remember way.
Does culture matter? Absolutely. A Study by monster.com indicates that employee turnover is 30 percent lower at places where there’s a strong fit for employee culture. In other words, happy employees stick to the job. Given the costs of hiring and training new employees, that can represent significant cost savings at large organizations. Investors should take note for companies that place a strong emphasis on a strong corporate culture.
What’s more, happy employees perform better. The same monster survey indicated that companies with strong corporate cultures can justify lower pay of up to 7 percent. In other words, employees work harder, better, and faster for less money.
It’s difficult to determine the turnover or happiness of rank-and-file employees at a given company you don’t work at. While some sites like Glassdoor offer employees reviews of their company, chances are the results will be graded on a curve, as employees with a bone to pick will be more likely to post a review.
But if the culture is that bad, there will be enough turnover at high-level positions that it makes the financial news. A company that burns through more than one CEO or CFO a year is in real trouble. Maybe not financial trouble, but it’s having a crisis of culture that may make it a longer-term company to avoid. At the very least, it may make competitors look like a far more attractive investment opportunity.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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