In recent months, a number of companies have faced criticism over their work policies. Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP), and Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) have been attacked to various degrees on decisions about when, and where, their employees can live and work. While these stories might make for interesting reading, should investors care?
Yahoo!, Best Buy ended working from home
Both Yahoo! and Best Buy have decided to phase out working from home. Although the companies operate in different fields — one an internet giant, the other an electronics retailer — they do share a number of similarities.
Each firm is operating under the command of a new CEO: for Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), Marissa Mayer; for Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY), Hubert Joly. Both Mayer and Joly have been tasked with turning around their respective companies.
Given their status as new CEOs, Mayer and Joly’s decisions likely stem from a perceived need to get a firm grasp on their companies. Having all employees in the office should allow both to get a sense of their workforce, and perhaps be able to influence it more directly.
But others disagree. Famed English billionaire Richard Branson publicly blasted Mayer’s decision, arguing that in the modern age, giving employees freedom to work wherever they please would lead to higher productivity. Given Branson’s resume, it’s hard to argue with his business acumen.
Likewise, Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY)’s decision was criticized by those who created it. Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler fired back at Joly in a blogpost, arguing that the shift was taking the company back into the 20th century.
J.C. Penney’s key executives commute from different states
J.C. Penney has received attention for a slightly different reason — many of its key executives, including CEO Ron Johnson, commute vast distances. In Johnson’s case, from California to Texas.
Given the retailer’s pernicious state, Johnson’s decision to live many states away could be seen as a lack of commitment. There’s also the question of the company’s culture towards expenses, as J.C. Penney spends thousands ferrying executives around on its corporate jets.
Yet, Johnson only agreed to take the job on the condition that he be allowed to remain in California. What’s more, Johnson’s job involves significant travel anyway, so flying to and from Texas is altogether not a big deal.
Different strokes for different folks
There’s no single correct way to manage a company. Countless examples demonstrate this point.
Take the aforementioned Branson and Apple’s legendary CEO Steve Jobs. Branson said Jobs was the entrepreneur he most admired, and jokingly suggested he would have no problem merging Apple with his Virgin empire. Yet, Branson admits they were polar opposites.
“He broke all the rules I believe in,” Branson said of Jobs. “Yet somehow it worked for him. Apple is one of the best brands in the world.”
When it comes to commuting, there have been executives that have turned companies around despite living hundreds of miles away. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE:CAG)’s CEO Gary Rodkin, for example, was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article in 2006, asking if he could turn around the struggling food processing giant despite traveling from Connecticut to Omaha for work. Shares are up over 50% since he took charge.
The same can be said for working at home. The results-only work environment Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) abandoned is still used by Yum! Brands, Inc. (NYSE:YUM), while Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) employs a similar system.