The 5 Best Companies in America: You Won't Know Most of Them

Cummins - Bloomberg News/Tom Strickland
Tom Strickland, Bloomberg News via Getty Images

There are dozens of ways to evaluate and measure the success of a company -- from customer service to employee satisfaction to profits, payouts, peer rankings, and more.

From an investor's perspective, however, the measures that traditionally receive the most acclaim are rapid earnings growth and a rising stock price.

Too bad this approach to analysis is severely flawed.

Had you based your investing decisions on rapid earnings growth and rising share prices, there would have been no question that Countrywide fit the bill to a T. The nation's largest mortgage lender certainly delighted its shareholders with huge profits from 2003 to 2006. Alas, the company drove itself into bankruptcy by mistreating its employees, homeowners, and mortgage investors -- three key stakeholders in its core business.

On a more mundane level, anyone who's ever had to deal with a surly checkout clerk can tell you that failing to look after employees and customers can result in lost future business for a retailer.

Of, For, and By the People

A lot of people are involved in a company's success -- or failure. As professor Ed Freeman of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia puts it, "Business is about how customers, suppliers, employees, financiers, communities, and managers interact and create value." Several studies suggest that companies that focus on multiple stakeholders tend to achieve better financial performance over the long term.

So which companies have got the mix right? Which ones are able to benefit all stakeholders?

The Best Company in America Is ... What?

For the past several months The Motley Fool has been compiling data and analyzing more than 1,700 public companies to discover the 25 best public companies in America, measured by their success in serving investors, customers, employees, and the world at large.

Some of the names will be familiar to you. Costco earns a spot, as does Aflac, Intel, Whole Foods, Coach, and Starbucks. But there are many you may not have heard of -- and as an investor, that's a shame.

Here are the five that rose to the top of the list. You can get more details on how we made the rankings, and link out to the entire top 25 list from the last slide in our gallery.

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