Good corporate citizen puts education first

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With $305 million in annual revenues and 950 employees, the California company is dwarfed by the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. Those companies post revenues in the tens of billions and each employs 100,000 or more people.

Typically, Gen-Probe wouldn't find itself lumped in with those giants.

But this is a different kind of list, one in which size doesn't matter. It's heart that counts in this rundown.

This is a list of the nation's 100 best corporate citizens as compiled by Business Ethics magazine. However, at position 94, the biotech company has posted a measure of success where you want to have it.

"It's a nice list to be on," says Hank Nordhoff, chairman, president and chief executive of Gen-Probe. "This really says a lot about the people who work here and how they work together."

Business Ethics looked beyond the balance sheet to determine the best corporate citizens. It sought out companies that not only provide healthy financial returns for investors but also emphasize good jobs for employees, respect for the environment, good relations with the community and reliable products for consumers.

The candidates were culled from companies on the Russell 1000, the S&P 500 and the Domini 400 Social Index. They were evaluated over a three-year span in eight separate areas of performance by Boston-based KLD Research and Analytics, a research firm for investors.

The Business Ethics list makes perfect sense to Jack Brill, who resides in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Brill, the author of "Investing in Your Values" and a socially responsible investing adviser, has been promoting these virtues for years.

"It used to be hard to research to find out which companies were socially responsible," Brill says. "It comes down today to a question of which comes first: your money or your morals? There is no need to make a bad choice today."

Resources over the Internet and the free flow of information about how companies operate help people see companies in a broader scope, he says.

Nordhoff says he thinks Gen-Probe made the list because of its emphasis on health care and education.

"Those are the two things that matter the most to us," he says, pointing out the company's work in developing nucleic acid tests used in the diagnosis of disease and in blood screening as well as its support of education.

"I think education really is in the culture here, partly because we have so many Ph.D.s," Nordhoff says. "That doesn't make our employees any better or any worse people, but it really does put an emphasis on education. As parents, these people tend to get more involved in their children's education and are more likely to be volunteering in schools."

Currently, Gen-Probe is supporting the Preuss School, a charter school on campus at the University of California San Diego. Gen-Probe has pledged $100,000 over three years and, more importantly, its employees volunteer on Saturday mornings as tutors.

Preuss School students are admitted to the school based on need. There are no academic qualifications. The students cannot have parents who graduated from college, they must live in low-income households and they must want to learn.

"The whole idea is to get kids into college who need and want to get there," Nordhoff says. "That appeals to us. Ninety-four percent of the school's graduates last year got into four-year colleges."

Gen-Probe also is distinguished in other ways. It offers stock options to all employees, a popular flex-work schedule that allows workers to have an extra day off every other week and other benefits.

"We want to have a company of interesting people who are committed to what we do," Nordhoff says. "If we have that, everything else flows."

Nordhoff acknowledges his pride on the company's inclusion on the list, but also cringes at its No. 94 ranking.

"We barely made it," he says. "We'll have to improve ourselves so we can move up next year."

© Copley News Service

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