Is Edwards Lifesciences One of the Best Companies in America?

Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE: EW  ) is a leader in replacement heart valves and monitors for blood movement and pressure. The medical device maker has been on one heck of a run over the last few years, which helped it come close to making the list of The 25 Best Companies in America.

The case for Edwards Lifesciences
Even with a slip last year, when the company massively missed third-quarter revenue guidance, Edwards Lifesciences is still up 290% over the last five years, handily beating the S&P500, which is almost flat over that time frame.

The company has produced outstanding returns for investors by introducing new products, which drives sales. Over the last five years, revenue has increased 11.3% annually. That's not hypergrowth, but anytime revenue growth reaches double digits, investors should take notice.

Edwards Lifescienceshas repurchased a lot of shares over the last few years, but it's gone entirely toward offsetting the issuance of shares. Increasing stock price tends to increase employee's cashing in stock options.

Even with the added expense, Edwards Lifesciences has built a nice war chest of $622 million. What management chooses to do with that cash -- hopefully an acquisition that can bring in new technology -- will likely determine whether the company's next phase is as successful as the last.

Growing profits have allowed Edwards Lifesciences to increase its giving. In 2011, it issued about 200 grants totaling more than $4 million to non-profits. The company also donates products to the Larry King Cardiac Foundation and AmeriCares, which works in impoverished parts of the world.

The case against 
Despite the awesome returns over the last few years, which one would think would benefit employees through stock options, Edwards Lifesciences employees seem less than enthusiastic about the company. Raters on Glassdoor give it a 3.3 out of 5, with only 71% of employees saying they would recommend the company to a friend.

The main culprit seems to be employees' view of management. "Management doesn't want to encourage new ideas or employee advancement, and promotions seem to be based on politics not hard work," wrote one reviewer. Another cited management's inability to think beyond today.

Perhaps it's a little bit of growing pains, but a cranky workforce is something that management needs to get under control quickly, especially in the medical device field where the only way to survive is to innovate. Every company is trying to one-up its competitors with new features. Edwards Lifesciences currently competes with Medtronic (NYSE: MDT  ) for heart valve patients, and St. Jude Medical  (NYSE: STJ  ) and Boston Scientific  (NYSE: BSX  ) BSX) are also developing heart valve products as well. If Edwards Lifesciences can't keep its employees happy, they're going to jump ship for competitors.

One other minor complaint: When Edwards Lifesciences missed third-quarter earnings guidance, one the excuses cited by Chairman and CEO Michael Mussallem was that doctors were on vacation over the summer. While that seems like a reasonable reason for lower sales -- doing surgical procedures on the beach is frowned upon -- it doesn't seem like a reason to miss guidance. The vacations should have been factored into the guidance. Where there really that many more doctors taking vacations than in previous years that it was an excuse worth mentioning?

Best of the Best?
The run that Edwards Lifesciences has gone on makes it worthy of our initial cut from 1,700 public companies down to around 40 companies -- a great feat for sure. But I think I'd like to see how it grows into its britches before we slap a ringing endorsement of being in the top 25.

Click here to read about the companies that made the final cut of The 25 Best Companies in America.


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