Bemoaning the worst companies in the world is easy, and even worthy. There are countless money-grabbing CEOs who refuse to pay humble, overworked employees anything above minimum wage. There are seemingly endless fast food companies who source their meat unscrupulously, encouraging horrific mistreatment of animals. And of course, there are several influential multinational brands that willingly grab huge amounts of consumers' money, only to leave them high and dry when product issues arise. And let's not get started on the banks...
But what about the good guys? The companies that really believe in their products, show love for their customers, treat their employees well and generally just do things the right way? They are, unfortunately, few and far between. Some of these trailblazers are getting the recognition and success they deserve. Some others are standing by their honorable policies and making a difference in a small but significant way, seemingly content to forgo total international market dominance in favour of decency and tidy profits.
Is it really true that good guys finish last? In a world where industrial transparency is more essential and more actively pursued than ever before, sometimes a good reputation can be a company's most marketable asset. These ten companies prove it's possible to do the right thing by employees and customers, without forfeiting international success.
10 Fast Food: Five Guys
It's rare for a fast food company to do the right thing by their customers. Convenience and low prices are usually prioritised over quality food, happy employees or ethical policies. But Five Guys is consistently proving itself the little hamburger joint that could. While McDonald's is seeing plummeting sales, Five Guys is currently the fastest-growing fast food chain in America with one of the highest levels of customer loyalty in the market.
Even the most health conscious of consumers like to pig out once in a while, and they'd do well to choose their nearest Five Guys restaurant for that cheat meal. Despite a shamelessly high calorie count, the restaurant uses antibiotic-free meat and locally sourced potatoes for their famously generous portions of fries. The family-owned chain has been top rated in food quality, service, and cleanliness in market polls, and they offer incentive bonuses to their employees.
9 Cosmetics: Lush
Lush was the brainchild of Poole-based British couple Mark and Mo Constantine, and it has grown to over 800 outlets worldwide in the last twenty years. In an industry plagued by questionable animal rights practices and eye-watering markups, Lush is a socially conscious, environmentally-friendly pioneer.
The company is against animal testing, and uses sustainable ingredients. Lush is regularly involved in animal rights campaigns and direct action campaigns, and encourages employees to campaign about issues that are important to them.
Lush is known for spending minimal amounts on advertising and branding (they don't advertise in traditional media), redirecting that money into their products' ingredients. Lush skincare - while more expensive than some of the lower end high street cosmetics brands - has one of the lowest markups in the industry, with a particularly high concentration of pricey, active ingredients. They even offer a recycling incentive, with a free face mask for customers who bring back their used pots for recycling. These truly are the good guys in a bad guy-heavy industry.
8 Gaming: Valve
Valve, the company behind the Steam distribution platform, has revolutionised the way people game, offering a baffling array of games at affordable prices. The company's holiday and flash sales have become the stuff of gamer legend, and founder Gabe Newell has attained a Godlike status among gamers.
Series masterminded by Valve include Half Life and Portal, but critically-acclaimed games aside Valve is known for being user- and employee-friendly. Utilising a 'flat organization' structure alongside an open allocation system, which allows employees to move freely between positions and has, technically, no bosses.
The organisation has gotten some flack in the past for slow customer service responses, and for a high-profile hack in 2011. However, Newall has asserted "the 250-person company [...] is more profitable than tech giants like Google and Apple" on a per-employee basis, so those setbacks clearly haven't impacted the company's reputation or overall growth.
7 Confectionary: Ben & Jerry's
The Ben & Jerry's company is known for more than its delicious ice cream flavours: They also have a social conscience. And they offer free ice cream, to boot.
Ben & Jerry's have given up some of their best practices in the years since the company exploded. Until 1995, they had a 'five times' pay policy, which didn't allow any single employee's salary to exceed that of the lowest paid employee in the company by more than five times. CEO and co-founder, Ben Cohen, was on a salary of just $150,000 at that time. Upon his resignation, however, that policy was obliterated. Since 2006, they've also abandoned their eco-print policy for packaging.
Still, the company does undeniable good. They have a strict non-GMO ingredients policy, and they are outspoken campaigners for environmental sustainability, and have campaigned against oil drilling. And they thank their customers with an annual free cone day, which increases their kudos immeasurably.
6 Cars: Tesla
The creative geniuses behind Tesla - including famed futurist Elon Musk - is so committed to seeing a world where electric cars are the prevalent form of transport that the company even shares its technology with rival car manufacturers, with reasonably open sourced patents.
While the cars are notoriously expensive, Tesla's technology is still in a relatively early stage of development and general affordability is one of the company's goals. As the industry leader in creating a sustainable alternative to gas powered cars, Tesla could change the face of transport forever and for the better: Captain Planet would agree that Tesla are definitely the good guys of the transport industry.
5 Clothes: L.L. Bean
L.L. Bean has recently been named among America's top 5 best employers, and have seen incredible growth over the last year. Their boot sales alone rose by well over 10% in over a year, between 2013 and 2014.
What began as a humble bootmaker company in Maine, U.S. in 1912 has grown to become a fashionista favourite known for quality, handmade products at a very reasonable price. The company is also known for its generously accommodating returns policy. While the outdoorsy brand has a typically 'preppy' reputation, it's also known for its promotion of a healthy lifestyle; L.L. Bean has its own education programs, which offer outdoor and extreme sports classes.
4 Toys: Lego
Could the 'world's most powerful' brands, and one of the most valuable, really be one of the good guys? Despite some concerns over sexist branding and increasing prices, it seems there are very few downsides to the popular Lego brand.
One of the longest-standing, most popular toys for kids, the Danish Lego company was founded in 1932. The deceptively simple building blocks have been proven to be one of the most useful tools for kids' developing brains. A Forbes' analysis shows that Lego is actually more affordable than ever today; while there are high-end options on the market, Lego has a range of budget-friendly sets that offer engaging entertainment for creative children.
The Harvard Business Review says Lego's success is down to its "ability to find the right balance among growing through innovation, staying true to its core, and controlling operational complexity."
3 Movies: Pixar
Pixar has become the go-to for high quality children's movies that can be enjoyed by all the family. In an era where older Disney movies are becoming increasingly dated, as concerns about the traditional cartoons' political correctness abounding, Pixar offers empowering lead characters, insightful storylines and comedy that doesn't patronise young viewers. The production house is led by the late Steve Jobs' simple but pervasive motto; "Just make it great."
As a company, too, Pixar is world-renowned. There has been much discussion about Pixar's uncompromising pursuit of perfection, and the production company is known for facing sunk costs head on. As revealed in co-founder Ed Catmull's book Creativity Inc., if a movie isn't panning out as planned, the team is uncompromising. They'll scrap whole projects and, literally, go back to the drawing board.
In Hollywood, maximising profits and cutting corners are notorious approaches which can see a great idea destroyed. It's refreshing to see a production company entirely dedicated to high quality, relevant work that will keep kids engaged, educated and - above all - entertained.
2 Shopping: CostCo
Great employee benefits at CostCo stand in stark contrast to one of the chain's biggest competitors, Walmart. CostCo's hands-on CEO famously takes home a relatively meagre salary of around half a million dollars, and all employees are paid above the minimum wage. The company also offers loyal workers a steadily increasing wage along with bonuses and ample chance for promotion.
While other large scale grocers offer false economy, CostCo is reputed to offer buyers a genuinely good deal; with incredibly low priced items, CostCo is known for ensuring the prices of their goods reflect the reality of the market. When an item's value drops, its price will drop at CostCo.
1 Entertainment: Netflix
Netflix is fast becoming the industry leader in home entertainment. What began as mail-order DVD company became the unlikely behemoth of the entertainment industry when it diversified into online streaming.
In 2011, when it began offering original programming, Netflix arguably changed the face of television. The site now revives well-loved shows that were rejected by the demanding figures-driven network television channels, and offers trail-blazing series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. All this for a diminutive monthly fee, made smaller by the ability to share an account with your friends and family.
Netflix certainly seems to be the ultimate good guy when it comes to the user experience, but what about for its employees? Two words: Unlimited vacations.