Investors focus on the bottom line. But a big part of a company’s bottom line – is its headcount – since employees are one of the biggest expenses companies have.

There are 10 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 that reported the largest percentage drops in the number of employees in calendar 2014, including energy company Hess (HES),Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and telecom company Motorola Solutions (MSI), according to a USA TODAY review of data from S&P Capital IQ. Each of these companies cut their total number of employees by 20% or more in calendar 2014.

Reducing headcounts is supposed to make companies more cost efficient – and streamlined – but investors didn’t reward companies as such. Shares of the companies with the biggest declines in headcounts rose an average of 0.2% over the past 12 months – lagging the 10.6% gain of the Standard & Poor’s. Much of that lagging performance is due to the fact that many of the job cutters are in the energy sector – which is also the sector crushed most on the stock market. Falling oil prices mean falling profit, falling stock prices and falling headcounts, apparently.

Here’s an equal-weighted, custom index of the 10 companies cutting the jobs:

Chart source: S&P Capital IQ

Layoffs can be one reason for reductions in jobs. But to be absolutely clear, just because a company’s headcount falls doesn’t mean it laid off those employees. Most of the very largest reductions in employee counts is occurs when a company sells a unit to another company and those employees go along with the deal. And some companies – usually those on fiscal years that end in months other than December – don’t disclose headcount numbers of 2014.

But while headcount numbers are noisy data – they’re also great ways to see how some companies and industries are reshaping themselves. CEOs can say anything. But it’s what they do with employees that tells the most about their strategy.


Company Symbol Total employees 2014 Total employees 2013 % Ch.
Hess HES 3,045 12,225 -75.1%
Chesapeake Energy CHK 5,500 10,800 -49.1%
Intercontinental Exchange ICE 2,902 4,232 -31.4%
Motorola Solutions MSI 15,000 21,000 -28.6%
Dover DOV 37,000 27,000 -27%
Time Warner TWX 25,600 34,000 -24.7%
Kimberly-Clark KMB 43,000 57,000 -24.6%
QEP QEP 765 1,001 -23.6%
CF Industries CF 2,250 2,850 -21.1%
Tesoro TSO 5,600 7,000 -20%

Sources: S&P Capital IQ, USA TODAY research

Still, looking at big employee count declines can be telling. Digging into the filings of the big companies with the largest employee count drop show.

* Hess. The energy company has the largest percentage drop of jobs among the universe examined in this analysis: 75%. The reason for the decline is the company’s decision to sell its gas station, or “retail,” network. The deal closed in late 2014 – and soon Hess gas stations will be rebranded “Speedway.” Speedway is a unit of Marathon Petroleum. According to Hess’ filing: “The number of persons employed by the Corporation was approximately 3,045 at December 31, 2014 and approximately 12,225 at December 31, 2013, of which approximately 8,700 related to the retail business which was sold in 2014.”

* Chesapeake Energy. The oil exploration company saw the number of employees drop in half. Again, it was a giant spinoff of the company’s oil services unit behind the change. The filing says, “Chesapeake had approximately 5,500 employees as of December 31, 2014 compared to approximately 10,800 employees as of December 31, 2013. As a result of the spin-off of our oilfield services business in June 2014, we experienced a reduction of approximately 5,100 employees.”

* Intercontinental Exchange. It’s not just the oil patch were positions are being eliminated at companies. Intercontinental Exchange, a leading operating of exchanges, is growing at an incredible pace. Revenue last year soared 90% to $2.9 billion. And the company did it with 31% fewer employees. Part of the headcount reductions were due to “employee terminations” at the New York Stock Exchange, which Intercontinental bought in 2012, in addition to spinning off the Euronext European trading forum as a separate company. Intercontinental also sold off former NYSE technology businesses including Nyfix, Wombat and Metabit.

Here’s what the company said in its filing, “As of December 31, 2014, we had 1,252 NYSE employees, compared to 3,099 NYSE employees as of December 31, 2013. The decrease in the NYSE employees during the year ended December 31, 2014 is primarily related to the reduction of the Euronext employees following the IPO on June 24, 2014, of which there were 1,049 Euronext employees as of December 31, 2013, the sale of NYSE Technologies and employee terminations in connection with the integration of NYSE. We recognized $290 million and $46 million in compensation and benefits expenses relating to NYSE during the years ended December 31, 2014 and 2013, respectively, subsequent to our acquisition on November 13, 2013.”

* Motorola Solutions. The telecom company has been attempting to regain its position in the telecom industry with greater efficiency. That included a 29% drop in the number of employees in 2014, including the elimination of 1,200 employees. The company says in its filing: “During 2014 we implemented various productivity improvement plans aimed at continuing operating margin improvements by driving efficiencies and reducing operating costs. In 2014, we recorded net reorganization of business charges of $96 million relating to the separation of 1,200 employees, of which 900 were indirect employees and 300 were direct employees.”

* Dover. The diversified commercial product maker saw a 27% decline in its headcount. The spinoff it its Knowles telecom units into a separate publicly traded company was the big reason why. Knowles reports 13,000 employees, which is actually 3,000 more jobs than Dover shed in 2014.

* Time Warner. The media and entertainment company showed a 25% decline in its headcount to 25,600 in 2014. That’s been part of an ongoing move to eliminate jobs at the company. The company’s filing spells it out: “The total number of employees terminated across the segments for the years ended December 31, 2014, 2013 and 2012 was approximately 4,000, 1,000 and 1,000, respectively.”

* Kimberly-Clark. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where some companies’ job reductions are coming from. The maker of personal care products launched a restructuring plan, which is expected to create job eliminations. The company’s filing says: “In October 2014, we initiated a restructuring plan in order to improve organization efficiency and offset the impact of stranded overhead costs resulting from the spin-off of our health care business. … Workforce reductions are expected to be in the range of 1,100 to 1,300 and primarily impact salaried employees.”

But for 2014, the big 25% drop in employees is almost entirely due to the spin-off its its healthcare business into Halyard Health (HYH) – in November 2014.

* QEP Resources. More changes in the oil patch mean more changes for employees. This oil exploration company sold off a unit – prompting a 24% drop in employees. “At December 31, 2014, QEP had 765 employees compared to 1,001 employees at December 31, 2013. None of QEP’s employees are represented by unions or covered by collective bargaining agreements. The decrease in the number of employees from December 31, 2013 is primarily due to the Midstream Sale,” according to the filing.

* Tesoro. There’s all sort of change going on with employees at this oil refiner. The headcount was down 20%. Much of that was due to a strategic change at the company. During the fourth quarter, company-operated gas stations were converted to “multi-site operators” stations. This new arrangement gives Tesoro the revenue from fuel sold at the stations, but the company doesn’t run the convenience stores or employ the store workers.

Here’s how the stocks have done the past 12 months:


Company Symbol Stock % Ch.
Hess HES -14.9%
Chesapeake Energy CHK -44.6%
Intercontinental Exchange ICE 10.3%
Motorola Solutions MSI -0.1%
Dover DOV -11.5%
Time Warner TWX 25.7%
Kimberly-Clark KMB -3.7%
QEP QEP -28.1%
CF Industries CF 14.1%
Tesoro TSO 54.6%

Sources: S&P Capital IQ, USA TODAY research