Top Takeaways From JUST Capital’s 2024 Leadership Summit on Better Business Outcomes

JUST Capital’s President Alison Omens spoke with Avangrid CFO Justin Lagasse, HPE Board Chairman Patricia Russo, and Accenture’s Stuart Henderson.

On Monday, February 5, JUST Capital and CNBC unveiled the 2024 JUST 100. The comprehensive list spotlights America’s Most JUST Companies by analyzing how companies comprising the Russell 1000 perform across the 20 Issues the American public believes corporations should prioritize in their business practices.

The event, which took place at the NASDAQ MarketSite and was sponsored by the Stakeholder Impact Foundation and BCG, opened with introductory remarks from JUST Capital CEO Martin Whittaker and a speech from Sushmita Banerjee, Senior Partner and Managing Director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Two panel discussions followed. The first featured a macro-level conversation between JUST Capital co-founder Paul Tudor Jones II alongside Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) CEO Antonio Neri, moderated by CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin. JUST Capital’s President Alison Omens then moderated the second panel with HPE Board Chairman Patricia Russo, Avangrid CFO Justin Lagasse and Accenture’s Northeast Market Unit Lead Stuart Henderson where they discussed in further detail what just business behavior actually looks like, what are the challenges and tradeoffs that companies face.

Banerjee set the tone for evening speaking about what she has seen working with some of the most successful companies in the world. “Just companies – in my experience – have leaders who exercise their responsible, ethical muscles every day, versus waiting for their grand moment where they could prove to the world they are doing something great,” she said. 

Just actions, Banerjee said, lead to something every business needs to thrive: trust. She highlighted BCG’s Trust Index as an example of how companies can measure and decode trust among stakeholders by focusing on four dimensions: competency, fairness, transparency and resilience. 

The companies that top JUST’s rankings prioritize building trust across stakeholders and their business performance benefits. ”When we look at the top 100 companies in JUST’s database, what we see is that they generate 2.5x more value than comparable businesses—their valuation multiples are also up to 47% higher,” Bannerjee said. 

Sorkin kicked-off the first panel conversation by prompting Jones to reflect on how far the conversation around stakeholders in American business has come over the last decade.

“If you rewind to 2014, no one would even know what stakeholder business meant,” Jones told the panel. “There was nothing but shareholder governance at that point in time. Of course that was why business was very narrowly focused on nothing but profits. That is one of the reasons why we started JUST Capital.” 

Turning to Neri, Sorkin gave the HPE CEO an opportunity to speak on why his company was able to secure the number-one spot in JUST’s 2024 rankings. This year is HPE’s first time at the top of the list after being recognized as a JUST 100 leader every year from 2018 through 2024.

“Our job is to create value and my measure of value is not just shareholder value,” Neri said at JUST’s 2024 Leadership Summit on Monday. “It’s about value for the people who participate in the ecosystem where we deliver business results or other types of outcomes for our customers and employees. Ultimately, stock price is a reflection of how you do things and what you deliver. One of the sayings we have at the company is ‘you have to win the right way.’”

The discussion delved into the correlation between this inclusive approach, business success, and positive societal impact. Additionally, Jones emphasized the need for other companies to adopt a similar mindset, underlining the significance of leadership in today’s dynamic economic and social landscape.

The second panel focused on the strategic investments C-suite leaders have undertaken that have led to top-ranking performances. HPE Board Chairman Patricia Russo, Avangrid CFO Justin Lagasse and Accenture’s Northeast Market Unit Lead Stuart Henderson gave practical examples to illustrate how they approach prioritizing stakeholder value to achieve business success.

“It’s really important that boards have clarity around what a reasonable timeframe is and I want to use an example from Merck,” Russo said. “There was a time when Merk’s TCR was not competitive with other pharma companies, because Merck had decided–as a company committed to science–that they were not going to cut back on R&D in order to get their profits up, they were going to continue to invest in medicines. And today, Merck has the largest cancer drugs on the planet as a result of what they invested in and their stock is now trading at $126 a share. So there is a time-horizon around when value creation for shareholders is the natural follow-on to all the other good things you’re doing for people, customers and communities.”

By aligning their strategies with the values prioritized by all of their stakeholders, these leaders exemplify the potential for businesses to thrive while making meaningful contributions to society. The emphasis on stakeholder value creation showcased the alignment between business success and ethical decision-making, reinforcing that a just approach is morally sound and strategically advantageous in the long run.

When asked what their advice would be to other companies, the panelists each provided their own poignant perspective. Henderson encouraged leaders to steer clear of politics and lean into the business case for transparency, diversity and sustainability, which would deliver good outcomes for shareholders and stakeholders. Lagasse rounded out the panel with a reminder to keep it simple—over-complicating how to empower and enable stakeholders to thrive is where the disconnect comes from. Russo emphasized the importance of focusing on managing human capital just as well as financial capital.

“I don’t get into debates about DEI,” Russo said. “I think the pushback is based on a myth of what it is. If you have a conversation with someone who is rational and intelligent, and you say, ‘Do you believe that different perspectives lead to better discussions?’ the answer will be yes. ‘Do you believe in a work environment where people feel like they can come to work and they can be their best selves because they are part of a team and valued?’ Absolutely. ‘Do you believe we should pay people fairly and the same for the same work?’ Oh, absolutely. Okay, well that’s DEI.” 

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