This hasn't been a banner year for Wall Street with stocks essentially flat for the year after being whipsawed in each direction. China's growth is slowing, commodity prices are sinking, high-yield bonds are falling, and U.S. debt levels are rising.
And yet, somewhere amid the clouds and the chaos that is Wall Street and the business world, we were privy to a host of feel-good stories throughout the year. Some ultimately proved more profound than others, but one thing holds true about a feel-good story no matter how profound it is: It leaves a smile on your face. Here are five of the best business stories, in no particular order, that left the biggest smiles on our faces in 2015.
1. Turkish CEO shares $27 million buyout windfall with employees
Mergers and acquisitions are commonplace in business. According to Dealogic's Dec. 11 report, global M&A is up 37% year to date to $4.68 trillion. This surpasses the $4.61 trillion in cumulative M&A deal value from 2007. However, the buyout of Turkey's largest online food delivery service, Yemeksepeti, was anything but ordinary.
The CEO of Yemeksepeti, Nevzat Aydin, announced in May that he'd sold the company he helped co-found for $589 million. But rather than let his 114 employees simply switch from one employer to another with nothing more than a thank-you for helping him build his company, Aydin sent them a bonus of epic proportions in July. Aydin announced that he would split the $27 million he pocketed from the sale with his 114 employees. Overall, the bonuses averaged a whopping $237,000 per employee, but they varied based on the tenure of the employee, performance, and their future potential with the company.
Let's put this into even more perspective: The average employee at Yemeksepeti earns $1,000 to $2,000 per month in wages, meaning Aydin's generous act provided 10 to 20 years' worth of income in one fell swoop. That kind of selfless generosity is enough to make anyone smile.
2. Netflix expands parental leave program to one year
The United States might be the most advanced and progressive country in the world in a number of issues, but among the most developed nations around the globe, we're the only one that doesn't guarantee pad maternity or paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act does offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to about half of all workers, but that's little solace to expecting parents.
Enter content streaming giant Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), which in August made the announcement that it was offering most of its staff, including women and men, unlimited paid parental leave for up to one year following the birth of a child. The move is expected to allow Netflix to hang on to more of its talent in its streaming operations (its DVD employees do not qualify for the unlimited leave). However, the real win here is for parents, who deserve to spend time with their kids and as a family. A health family life should lead to a happier, healthier, and more focused employee, which is good for everyone.
3. Mark Zuckerberg pledges $45 billion in donations
Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had quite the year. Earlier this month, he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, welcomed the birth of their baby daughter. On the same day that their child was born, Zuckerberg released a statement saying that he would be creating a new entity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, and would, over the course of his lifetime donate 99% of his Facebook stock to "further the mission of advancing human potential and promoting equality by means of philanthropic, public advocacy, and other activities for the public good," per the SEC filing. Based on Facebook's current share price this works out to a roughly $45 billion lifetime donation.
If you can believe it, Zuckerberg has actually taken heat for the manner in which he's donating the money (i.e., creating an LLC and using the donations as a tax break against future earnings). But forget the tax implications for a moment. Think about how $45 billion could help those in need of financial or humanitarian assistance. Best of all, Zuckerberg is unlikely to sell his stock anytime soon, meaning it could appreciate into an even larger donation over time.
4. Wal-Mart pledges to raise its minimum wage to $10
Let's get this out of the way from the get-go: Retail giant Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) is rarely ever being praised for its labor practices. Wal-Mart, the world's largest employer with roughly 1.4 million people working for the chain just in the U.S., had around a half-million people earning less than $10 per hour when the year began. Wage protests have also been a common occurrence in recent years, with some employees proclaiming it impossible to feed their families or earn a living wage while working for Wal-Mart. But the times are changing.
Earlier this year, Wal-Mart told its investors and employees that it would be raising the minimum wage for its employees to $9 per hour in 2015, up from the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage, and would again raise its minimum wage $1 to $10 per hour in Feb. 2016. This move wasn't preempted by the federal government boosting its minimum wage, but was instead undertaken in order to boost morale among its employees, improve loyalty, and lower turnover.
The initial results seem to indicate Wal-Mart's efforts are working. ThinkProgress notes that replacing a worker is an expense equal to about a fifth of an employee's annual salary. Per Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon, job applications were on the rise following its announcement and turnover was down. A minimum wage boost equating to a $1 billion investment in its workforce won't fix Wal-Mart's recent woes overnight, but it did just put more money in the pockets of those who need it, and that's a good thing.
5. Imprimis undercuts Daraprim's cost by 99.87%
Our final feel-good story of 2015 comes from the pharmaceutical sector, turning one of 2015's worst moments into one of its most defining.
In August, privately held Turing Pharmaceuticals, headed by Martin Shkreli, purchased a rare-disease drug known as Daraprim. Daraprim, which is designed to treat toxoplasmosis, has been on pharmacy shelves for 62 years, but that didn't stop Shkreli and Turing from raising the price of each tablet from $13.50 to $750 overnight in September -- nearly a 5,500% increase! Turing didn't do a darn thing different to the formulation of Daraprim, nor did it change to a new, more expensive manufacturing facility. It merely bought the drug, jacked up its price, and expected to turn a hefty profit.
Then a white knight named Imprimis Pharmaceuticals entered the picture. Imprimis, a three-and-a-half-year-old compounding pharmacy based in San Diego, put two Food and Drug Administration-approved compounds together -- pyrimethamine, the active ingredient, and leucovorin, to limit the effects of pyrimethamine -- and created a compounded drug that could replace Daraprim for... (drum roll)... $0.99 per tablet. Yes, ninety-nine cents! Express Scripts, the nation's leading pharmacy-benefit manager, dropped Daraprim from its list of approved drugs for 2016 and replaced it with Imprimis' compounded drug.
Sometimes corporate greed doesn't win, and that was the case with Imprimis winning out over Turing.
Did I leave out your favorite feel-good story for 2015? Share it in the comments section below.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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