Caring is, in many respects, the salient member of American Values Investments' quintet of the qualities that we demand from the companies that ultimately become part of our portfolios. Think about it: A company whose leadership is devoid of concern for values stands a far lower likelihood of succeeding over time than does one in which management is intent on fostering the best interests of its employees, its customers, and the communities in which it operates..
That, at least, is our strongly-held belief at American Values. Indeed, our contention about the relative importance of Caring is aptly demonstrated by our attribution of up to 225 of the maximum 500 points for companies that figuratively practice what they preach regarding Caring. That represents at least a third more than that accorded any of the other values in our examination kit.
To become an American Hero company -- the term for those corporations that qualify for investment by our firm -- a target company's assessment by our analysts must result in at least 390 values points. After all, the higher a company's overall values score, the more likely it is to constitute a positive force for America which contributes to our primary goal of a better and brighter America.
Caring involves largely what you'd expect from it. For starters, the extent to which a company strengthens employees' traditional family relationships (through the provision of compensation and benefits that are comprehensive, creative, and competitive) is of utmost importance. Similarly, generating an atmosphere that results in a satisfying place to work is also crucial. The same is true of a willingness to give time, talent, and money to the communities that it touches.
Past American Values Investments articles have dealt with the categories of Integrity as a values categort. In that piece we discussed five companies that have been awarded the most points from our analysts for Integrity. Now that we've discussed the primary aspects and metrics for our search for Caring companies, let's take a look at those American Hero companies that have ascended to the highest positions in that particular attribute.
Sitting Atop the Caring Contingent -- American Financial Group
At the top of American Values Investments' ranking for Caring is Cincinnati-based American Financial Group (AFG). The company, which is but a few years shy of its hundred-and-fiftieth birthday, provides a range of property and casualty insurance across the United States.
American Financial has assumed Caring's highest position through its intense concern with the sorts of issues noted above. For instance, it has demonstrated meaningful beneficence in the area of education.
As but one example, its ongoing support of Atlanta's Ron Clark Academy has permitted the school to construct a library especially designed to foster an unusually engaging learning environment.
The company has also been recognized by the Cincinnati Enquirer as one of the top places to work in the Cincinnati area. Additionally, it conducts a plethora of wellness programs for its 6,300 employees. These have led to its being tabbed as one of the healthiest companies in America by Interactive Health Solutions, a provider of specifically-tailored wellness programs for a host of businesses and other organizations.
Building a Better America - Lowe's Companies
Second among the "Caringest" of the corporations our analysts have examined is Lowe's (LOW), the home improvement retailer into which most of us have ventured, perhaps repeatedly. Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, just north of Charlotte, the Lowe's big box stores are far more than purveyors of paint and sink faucets. Rather they provide all manner of appliances, tools, and lawn and garden equipment, to name but a few of their wares.
As its position on American Values' Caring would indicate, Lowe's also offers a host of benefits to its employees and, given its geographic spread, to the nation at large. For instance, early in 2014 it announced that it was tacking on another five years of participation in the Habitat for Humanity's homebuilding program. That donation will amount to $23.5 million, along with thousands of hours of employees' time. From a purely monetary perspective, the latest five-year largesse will be added to the nearly $40 million already contributed by the company to Habitat.
Lowe's is also attentive to the attitudes of its employees. Each fall, for instance, it conducts an employee opinion survey that provides "all full- and part-time employees the opportunity to tell us how well we are delivering on the things that are important to them...."
Three Very Different Caring Corporations - Tractor Supply, Apache, and J.M. Smucker
Also included among the highest-ranking companies for Caring, as judged by American Values Investments' analysts, are three very different corporations: Tractor Supply (TSCO), Apache Corporation (APA), and J.M. Smucker (SJM). As you may know, Tractor Supply, which is headquartered in Middle Tennessee, operates a chain of retail farm and ranch stores in the United States. Included in its offerings are merchandise for livestock and pets, along with all manner of equipment for agricultural and rural use.
Apache is one of the world's top independent oil and gas producers. In the U.S., it works in a variety of plays, including the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, and on- and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico region. Internationally, it's active in Canada and the western desert of Egypt, along with other notable sites. Finally, you almost certainly know about Smucker from its iconic slogan, "With a name like Smucker's..." That, of course refers to the food products it offers worldwide. You may not have known, however, that it operates through such other well-known labels as Dunkin Donuts, Folgers, and Borden.
All three companies demonstrate the importance of Caring in a variety of ways. For instance, providing top-notch customer service is sufficiently paramount to Tractor Supply that it's earned a reputation for going "the country mile." In addition, management has stated in the company's literature for employees that "Family is number one in our book. That's why we're proud to help yours grow stronger through the Tractor Supply Company Scholarship Fund."
Apache displays its intense concern for veterans and current members of the military by participating actively in the Wounded Warriors program. One of the company's top executives describes a significant reason for the attention to the military by the Houston-based company: "The intangibles of selfless service, devotion and loyalty are traits honed in the military. They are traits we value in all Apache employees." But the company hardly stops there. It also provides volunteer support for hundreds of civic and philanthropic organizations around the world.
In 2013, J.M. Smucker was named the recipient of Crown Media's sixth annual "Crown Award," which honors companies that augment quality family-friendly programming through responsible advertising. Additionally, Smucker is a major sponsor of the Heartland Education Community, Inc., an organization whose goal is one of "shifting the focus from school to education and shifting the responsibility from school to community. "
In the End, It's America That Benefits
We could continue almost interminably detailing a nearly endless stream of other manifestations of Caring among the above five companies. Indeed, a look at other American Hero Companies would bring forth untold indications of Caring managements, which, of course, is where it all begins. The key to Caring, however, is that the best of America's companies take their concerns well beyond posting profits. And in the aggregate, America itself becomes a primary beneficiary.