You can crunch all the numbers you want on a company, but as Warren Buffett has admonished, investors are ultimately buying businesses, not just slips of paper. And as he could also tell you, it's the people running the place who have the largest impact on whether the business is successful. It's why more often than not he sticks by his managers. Perhaps it's a weakness, as he says, or as Charlie Munger puts it, "we over-trust."

But placing their trust in strong executives is what's allowed Berkshire Hathaway to be the phenomenal investment it's become, and arguably it's employees who who know best if a company has good bosses.

Glassdoor recently released its list of the top 50 CEOs in the U.S. as determined by the employees themselves. It collects anonymous employee feedback and feeds the data into a proprietary algorithm that considers the quality, quantity, and consistency of reviews. The survey covers all industries, but here are the three retail sector CEOs who rose to the top, two of whom you're undoubtedly familiar with and one who you probably haven't heard of before.

No. 1: Mark G. Parker, Nike (NYSE:NKE)

Mark Parker, Nike CEO. Photo: Nike

Nike's Mike Parker ranked tops among all retailers with 1,000 or more employees, and came in second place in the Glassdoor survey overall, just behind Google's Larry Page. Since assuming the CEO position in 2006 -- only the third person to hold the title at Nike -- revenues have grown 70% to $27.8 billion, an 8% compounded annual growth rate.

Parker remains a creative force at the sneaker company and he can still derive inspiration from those beneath him, believing a top-down corporate structure to be "archaic." One of the reviews provided to Glassdoor echoed that sentiment saying, "The people are incredibly inspiring, creative, and innovative. It is a company full of leaders with hard-working, passionate, dedicated employees who want to help better the world through sport. Absolutely love the company."

As Parker told The Wall Street Journal several years ago, "Have you heard the Japanese word otaku? It means being deeply obsessed by the details of something. I relate to that."

Bringing everyone along for the ride engenders the kind of loyalty Nike employees hold for Mark Parker.

No. 2: Charles C. Butt, H-E-B Grocery Stores

Charles Butt, H-E-B CEO. Photo: Glassdoor

You may not be familiar with this privately held regional grocery store chain, but H-E-B is still run by the same family that founded it in 1905 in Kerrville, Texas, and it still primarily serves the same Texas market -- though now there are 344 stores that stretch into Mexico, too. That makes H-E-B one of the biggest grocery store chains in the U.S and also one of the largest privately owned companies in America.

Charles Butt inherited the family business in 1971 and shepherded it an estimated $20 billion in revenues last year, leaving it still behind giants like Kroger and Safeway, but significantly ahead of more familiar names like Whole Foods Market.

Some 96% of H-E-B employees chiming in on Glassdoor rate Butt highly because he cares about their welfare. One of the most common refrains among the employee ratings of the grocery store chain are about the good pay and benefits they receive, as well as promoting from within.

Said one employee, "A great company who employs quality people. Management was always fair and recognized a job well-done." It's something Wal-Mart is only just learning, but has apparently been part of H-E-B's DNA for a very long time.

No. 3: Craig Jelinek, Costco (NASDAQ:COST)

Craig Jelinek, Costco CEO. Photo: Glassdoor

Costco is another retailer famed for paying its employees well and doing right by them. On average, Costco employees earn over $20 an hour, while 88% of them have company-sponsored health insurance benefits. No wonder the warehouse chain has ranked as the best retailer to work for four years running in Glassdoor's annual workplace survey.

That also helps explain why Craig Jelinek came in third place in the retail space in the recent Glassdoor survey with employees giving him a 95% approval rating (some 82% of them would also recommend working at Costco to a friend). He came in 13th place overall.

Creating a favorable work environment has been the hallmark of Jelinek's tenure at the big-box store, and he's taken to advocating for a hike in the federal minimum wage, endearing himself to retail workers everywhere. Since he already pays his own workers well, he's garnered their appreciation with one employee noting: "Very affordable high quality health insurance benefits even for PT employees. Great for working parents who split up child care and need coverage. The key to succeeding at Costco is to work hard, have a good attitude and be nice to people. It's hard work and [fast] paced, you have to be down for that to succeed."

All three CEOS seem to operate under the notion that if you take care of your employees they'll take care of you. For publicly traded Nike and Costco, that should be a sign to investors of what's to come for them every bit as much as what their revenue, profits, and margins were in the latest quarter. 

 

Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Costco Wholesale, Google (C shares), and Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Costco Wholesale, Google (C shares), and Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.