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155: Marjorie Kelly of Democracy Collaborative - Part 1

Bret Keisling is joined by Marjorie Kelly, Senior Fellow and Executive Vice President of The Democracy Collaborative, whose tireless work to promote a more inclusive and equitable economy includes a passion for and focus on employee ownership.


Episode 155 Transcript

Bitsy McCann: [00:00:00] Welcome to The EO Podcast, where we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: [00:00:12] Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling, and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. A couple of months ago on Episode 146 of the podcast, we featured Jon Shell of Social Capital Partners and Marjorie Kelly of The Democracy Collaborative who talked about the amazing financing that was arranged for Taylor Guitars' transition to 100% ESOP.

Last week on the podcast, we featured a conversation with Jon Shell and today and next week, I'm going to bring you a two-part conversation with Marjorie Kelly. Marjorie is a senior fellow and executive vice-president of the Democracy Collaborative, which works tirelessly to promote a more inclusive and equitable economy for all.

My conversation with Marjorie ran in total about an hour and five minutes. So we've broken it up into two parts. I hope you enjoy part one with Marjorie Kelly.


Bret Keisling: [00:01:10] I am very happy to be joined on the podcast by someone who just, I see all over the place on social media, doing all kinds of incredible things, Marjorie Kelly of The Democracy Collaborative. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Marjorie Kelly: [00:01:26] Bret, thanks for having me.

Bret Keisling: [00:01:28] It is absolutely my pleasure. You folks do so many good things and I would like to give a shoutout and a thanks to someone on your team. On my social media network one of my favorites is Karen Kahn, who is the editor of the Employee Ownership News and is a frequent social media poster. Karen and your organization are broadcasting so many cool and important things that you're doing, so we really appreciate it.

Marjorie Kelly: [00:01:51] Yeah, thanks, Bret. Yeah. Karen is really a force of nature in spreading the word on Employee Ownership News. It's been really a phenomenon.

Bret Keisling: [00:01:58] And let me just say to our regular listeners, I've talked about Karen on previous podcasts, or I should say the Employee Ownership News, it just, I do mention her name on occasion, and I've been, frankly, really honored to be invited to submit for your newsletter as well. I just want to suggest that all of our listeners follow you folks on social media, your newsletter, when it comes out is just packed with all kinds of information.

And you and I have done a podcast with Jon Shell of Social Capital Partners about the financing of Taylor Guitars and your role in that. And your role in that was one of journalism, broadcasting, and that sort of thing. But now let's talk about what your organizations are doing broadly.

Marjorie Kelly: [00:02:43] I'll start by saying that the Democracy Collaborative, we're a national non-profit, we're an R&D lab for a democratic economy. So we're working in theory and practice to advance an economy that works for all of us. So we work in a variety of different areas and employee ownership has been one of our flagship projects for a long time. Our most well-known work there was in Cleveland where we helped develop, we really led the development of the Evergreen Cooperatives, which today is a network of three employee owned firms held together by a common holding company and employing mostly people of color from the inner city of Cleveland, about half are -- at the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry about half are formerly incarcerated, for example. And these are firms that are fed by large contracts from anchor institutions. And so it's a model of what we call community wealth building.

We see employee ownership as part of something much larger. It's not -- it tends to be seen as the siloed activity and we think it as long as it's siloed, and this is an important, I think, message for the ESOP community, that if we see it only as its own silo, I think it's going to continue to be stagnant, which it has been for decades in terms of growth.

So we began this project called Fifty by Fifty, which is a network of experts in the field saying, how would you catalyze employee ownership to grow? We need a big goal. Let's have 50 million employee owners by 2050, instead of 10 or 11 million that there are today.

A big goal, but also awareness and also a role for capital. And as I said, we see employee ownership ownership as part of a new kind of ecosystem and community wealth building is really about economic development, building a new kind of system that benefits all of us. And we want not just employee ownership, but also the capital to flow to it and also the big contracts. And we want locally owned banks and we want lots of kinds of institutions that are built for and an economy that benefits all of us.

Now, these large anchor institutions in Cleveland, for example, the employee ownership laundry there now does all the laundry for Cleveland Clinic. And you can imagine, I can't say how many millions of pounds of laundry is, but it's a lot. And they started out with a small carve out contract that the anchor institution took a risk on this new startup business and they did so well that Cleveland Clinic over time decided to bring all their laundry to them.

And what this meant was that the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry doubled the number of employees overnight. And so there's a hundred new workers on a fast track to employee ownership. And recently the long time workers at this laundry received year-end bonuses of about $11,000 each. These are people making somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 an hour. But when you add a bonuses, this can be in the neighborhood of $20 an hour.

So employee ownership is a substantial gain for people who have been most excluded in our economy. Today, that is a very powerful story. There are mayors interested in that. There are governors interested in that. There are investors interested in that, and there are -- our federal government is interested in that.

This is a big story. This is not just, oh, some technical details about how we're going to convince owners to exit in a way that benefits them. Bret, that is how ESOPs have tended to be sold for many years in this very technical way. There's a whole industry of technical providers, and it's all about persuading owners to exit and what's the benefit for owners.

And I think that is not a compelling story for our nation at this moment in our history, when there's so much concern about inequality, there's so much concern about racial equity. I think employee ownership is a much, much bigger story, and I think it ought to be a mainstream part of who we are as America.

We ought to have an economy built for all of us and its employees who are creating this wealth. When they share in that wealth, the companies we know they're more productive, they're less likely to lay people off. They're building wealth for people who are normally excluded. This is a country where 47% of Americans can't put together $400 in an emergency. And if you need a car repair, you need to send a kid to college, you can't do these things.

John Barros, who is head of economic development in Boston, said once to us, it takes a job to get out of poverty, but it takes assets to stay out of poverty.

So, I think, spreading assets to ordinary people, this is the next stage of the American economy. This is the next stage of broad prosperity. And employee ownership is a part of that. And we need to begin talking about it in a bigger way, because it is a much, much bigger deal. And I think that will jumpstart it.

So let me just come back and say, with Fifty by Fifty, we have been doing research. We were very fortunate to win a competitive grant from Rutgers University to look at the role of capital in expanding employee ownership. And the reason that we did that is that our research showed, as I said, we were, we did convenings, we did interviews, lots of experts, and we were saying what's missing? And so what I would say is that the field for decades has really been taking an information route. We need to inform exiting owners and that's how we're going to spread employee ownership. And it's not really, it's not really working. And so what we came to the conclusion is that there's a missing agent.

Who has the agency to take employee ownership to scale? It's not employees, they can't really step up and buy the company. They also don't even know about employee ownership. It tends to not be exiting owners. For them, it's so complex. They have to go out and find advisors. They have to find debt. They have to stay on the hook with debt. And so it's complicated. And other people -- private equity and competitive acquirers are knocking on the door every week saying, do you want to sell your company? And all they need to do is say yes, and then it's done. And they've got the cash and they're off the hook.

And so we came to the conclusion that what's needed to scale employee ownership is capital. Not just debt, not just bank debt, because as people told us, there's a good deal, you can find bank debt. What's missing is organized capital that will step forward and say, do you want to sell your company? We'll do the rest for you.

That, the private equity like capital is what's needed. So we have a new report that just came out a Bret called Opportunity Knocking, and we're looking at a dozen funds that are forming to do precisely this. And and we tell that story of why different kinds of capital are needed and the role of policy, because we think there's a huge role for policy as well.

So I'm going to stop there and hear your next question.

Bret Keisling: [00:09:47] That is great. And let me actually make a comment and then I'd love to take one or two of the big picture items that you just talked about.

First of all for our listeners and folks who may not know employee ownership, I just want to drive a point home. We talk about a lot of phrases that sometimes people misunderstand the social aspects, social, societal aspects that are very important, but the point that I just want to drive home with the Evergreen Cooperatives, the laundry is, first of all, the jobs are staying in their communities as you'd talked about. They are disproportionately people of color and a large number of women based as well, which just are the part of the segments that employee ownership helps naturally.

But I just want to drive home because, I started as an ESOP trustee and really was just one of those numbers driven people. All of these folks got significant $11,000, just average, bonuses because it's a successful well-run business. This is not a, there's a lot of the societal good to it. But these are solid business opportunities who are run well with that better bounce in their step because they're employee owned. Am I saying that right?

Marjorie Kelly: [00:11:01] Yeah. That's exactly right. And I think, Bret, that a lot of people are not used to thinking of business as a tool for social good. And it is, and it can be, and it can be successful business and producing wealth for people normally excluded. All of that. All of that can happen.

Bret Keisling: [00:11:20] So let's now talk big picture and you touched upon some things that I am an optimistic guy, when people listen to this podcast, it starts with amplifying and celebrating all forms of employee ownership. But there are realities and you hit upon a couple of them.

First of all. And I've said this on the podcast. I am delighted to say it to you. My goal for the podcast, broadly, is to improve employee ownership. I'm not selling anything. There aren't ads. People can't buy. I was about to say, people can send me money, feel free, but I'm not asking.

Marjorie Kelly: [00:11:53] [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: [00:11:54] So, Marjorie, I've adopted the Fifty by Fifty only because numbers are all over the place and I wanted something to quantify. So somebody says, Bret, what's your goal. I want to grow employee ownership. If somebody says dive down deeper, I've taken your number Fifty by Fifty, so thank you for quantifying something that that we can all relate to.

That leads to my question and you can take it wherever you would go. You said some things that, that I sometimes hesitate to bring up in my role of EO cheerleader, but there's a perception, reality in some ways, that the ESOP pipeline is very robust. Practitioners, if they're good, have a lot of transactions, their personal pipeline for doing transaction is good. The organizations, and I'm talking about the mainstream that have conferences, are sold out every single year and there's record-setting attendance. We are robust in many metrics.

Meanwhile, Louis Kelso, founder of ESOPs at least in the United States, had second edition of his book come out in 1996. We've lost 10 or 12% of the number of ESOPs since 1996. So part of what I think is missing here, and I almost feel like I'm being a little sacrilegious to suggest it, is boy, there are so many good metrics that we have, but we're shrinking. We're not, we're not even holding our own. Is that a fair assessment?

Marjorie Kelly: [00:13:20] Yeah, it is Bret and another metric that I would look at and we look at it in our report, Opportunity Knocking is how many ESOP transitions are there every year? And there's about two, 200, maybe 300. And there are thousands of M&A [Mergers & Acquisitions] deals done every year. You look at the amount of money that's going into employee ownership and it's a tiny fraction of the amount of money that's going into acquisitions of companies in general. And I think we need to take ourselves much more seriously. And I think that it involves capital.

There is one leader of employee ownership who said to me early on when we were starting this research, he said, 'oh please don't look at private equity, please don't talk about private equity' because private equity basically buys ESOP companies and takes them out of employee ownership because these are known to be good companies. They are -- they're productive. They have low turnover. They tend not to go out of business. They are well-run companies and so private equity wants to swoop in and buy them, load them with debt, and sell them to somebody else. And basically often, too often, destroy them.

So I think it might be a little counterintuitive for the employee ownership community to look at private equity as potentially a friend. And we, what we say in our report is that it has to be capital that's deployed in the right way. And again, this comes back to this idea of, we need to bring social values, social aims, into business and financial transactions. These are not just neutral let's squeeze every dime out and that's the only way things can be done. No, let's look at the impact on employees as well as the impact on exiting owners and the impact for investors. All of these parties need to be considered.

So we worked with Soros -- the family office of Soros -- to say how would you do ESOP deals, employee ownership deals in a way that is optimum for employees, not just for the exiting owner. And we gathered, Democracy Collaborative, we worked with Soros to gather experts in ESOPs and worker co-ops and in impact investing and came up with guidelines for equitable employee ownership transactions. And they're very detailed, very granular. How would you do deals that really benefit employees?

And this, oddly, see this again, Bret, this has oddly been missing. It's been mostly concerned for the exiting owner and then of course, concern for capital. They're the people at the table. So how do you at least conceptually get employees to the table? Maybe literally get them at the table at some point, but at least get their concerns built in upfront. And so these are guidelines that a number of investment firms are testing right now.

Let me just reiterate something that I said earlier, is that I think that we have seen the employee ownership is too much of a siloed activity. It has this hidebound way. We're just going to convince exiting owners. We're going to work it there. We're going to tell them what the benefits are and that's how we're going to sell employee ownership.

But I think when we bring broader concerns in: concern for employees, a concern for the community, as you said, these are jobs that don't leave the community. Exiting owners care about these things. Also policy makers care about these. The public cares about these things. One leader said to me, employee ownership is not going to be a mainstream concern until it's in policy, until it's part of the policy conversation.

And I think that's right. And so that's another way that we need to break out of our hidebound, old ways of thinking about employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: [00:16:59] That makes a lot of sense. Turning to the broader conversation in our country right now. And we don't, and you probably experienced this and I imagine it's somewhat of your procedures as well, we don't go overtly political here on the podcast. And for anyone who's listening, the reason is really simple. We've got friends all over the place. The most prominent, I think it's fair to say, long time supporter in the United States of employee ownership is Bernie Sanders. And meanwhile, we get strong support from a Republican Senator from Wisconsin who I will simply say is no Bernie Sanders.

So everybody comes together. During the presidential primary last year, and I couldn't do it with the Republicans because there was no primary, but with the Democratic primary, I took several debates and on podcasts, my debate was here's what the candidate said. And then they're talking about employee ownership, but they're not saying "employee ownership." When Biden, and I don't mean this political, but when he talks about "build back better," whatever you think about it, employee ownership should be all over that, top of name awareness and we're not. Is that part of our problem of getting into the broader acceptance?

Marjorie Kelly: [00:18:10] It is. I've been around the employee ownership field for a long time. I'm a curious person who, I think there was one time I was at a coffee shop and I had a copy of the Wall Street Journal and a copy of Mother Jones on the table. And I was reading both of them and somebody stopped and said last very unusual, you don't see somebody reading both of those. And I think that among progressives, there is an discomfort with thinking about business or investing as a tool for change. And I think among conservatives, there is a kind of a distrust of liberal values and they don't really belong in business.

And I think employee ownership, as you say, it is one of these wonderful opportunities where two sides can meet. I often like to say, it's the only policy option I know that has been favored by both Ronald Reagan and Bernie Sanders.

Business people love employee ownership because it helps employees to think more like business people. You're going to have a better business if employees understand how, what makes a business successful and understand their role in it. And employees are going to do that when they actually share in the gains. One person said that you don't want to give employees just a sense of ownership, just as you don't want to give someone a sense of dinner. [Laughter.] They should actually enjoy the gains of ownership.

And I think we've been in a long period of conservative hegemony, I think, in politics and certainly in business. And I think when the employee ownership field tends to say we're apolitical, what they mean is we don't talk about liberal values. We don't talk about liberal ideas. Because the employee ownership field is very comfortable talking about maximizing your returns and reducing your taxes and increasing your profits. It's very comfortable with all of those terms. It's a little bit less comfortable with saying , well how does this benefit people of color who have long been excluded? And how do you get employees a voice in the deal, because if you're an owner, you ought to have a voice. So I think that we need to have values from both sides of the spectrum and be more comfortable bringing them together.

Bret Keisling: [00:20:26] I'm curious what you just said in terms of focus, or lack, on people of color that sort of thing where it's uncomfortable, was your reference. Is it in your view any more or less uncomfortable than society at large? And the second question, and the first couple of years of my of the podcast it was produced by my son who was, worked for me at the trustee firm, and he made the point when he came in -- and traditional, love him, to death progressive, and I don't want to label him. He would label him himself, however he is. But really in one of those mindsets, I guess he was in college when Bernie ran for president in 2016. And Brian started coming to various conferences, and this isn't a knock on anybody. I think it's part of the reality and part of the uncomfortable conversations to have. But Brian, my son, knew that I did an awful lot of business travel and had an awful lot of business dinners. And Brian said, you know, Dad, that there's a rule out that if you're at a conference or you're at a function and everybody at your table looks like you, you need to eat with different people. You need to broaden who you are with.

And Marjorie, and it's not your organization, and again, I am not knocking it, but I'll go to a conference with 1,200 people and there might be a handful of people of color. And, I've even noticed in terms of the podcast, I've done very well with the gender differences, but the presence doesn't seem to be there. Should that be more of a top of mind recruitment, should we be forcing the uncomfortable conversations, or what do we do about improving the representation of people of color, even within our internal ranks, if you know what I mean?

Marjorie Kelly: [00:22:07] These are, these are great questions, Bret, and I'm really happy that you're raising them.

So to the first one is is the discomfort or the lack of people of color? Is it greater in the ESOP world than in others? It, I don't think the discomfort is greater. I think white people in general are uncomfortable around this issue and I'll speak to that in a moment, but I I do think it's really important that we begin to notice how white the ESOP world is.

I've gone to a number of these conferences and I remember sitting with a friend from Detroit once and saying, why is the ESOP world so white? And she said It's because upper management in general is so white that you have to be in the pipeline for awhile in order to make it into upper management. And that's who is at ESOP meetings. It's CEOs, it's top management, it's heads of technical assistance firms. And these do tend to be white people. So a lot of it is just a a pipeline issue that there's been, there's been such active discrimination against people of color back in the fifties and sixties and even now, but I think less so now, that the pipeline hasn't been there.

And so, I think that we don't need to feel, we don't need to beat ourselves up, so let's start there. But on the other hand, the world at large, America at large, is racist as we're learning and I think what we're learning is it's not enough to be non-racist, which I think the ESOP world is we need to be anti-racist and that means we need to actively go out and combat what have been, what has been centuries of disadvantage that you can only co overcome that with active support and active creation of opportunities.

And this is one of the reasons, Bret, that we at the Democracy Collaborative make it a point to talk about employee ownership and not draw a big distinction between ESOPs and worker co-ops. I'm really agnostic about the two, but what I do see they're both good models and they fit in different options, different situations, and we ought to be working together and seeing ourselves as a single community. And more and more, that is true.

But I will say that people in the worker co-op field do tend to be more attentive to racial equity issues. And I hope that will change. I hope that will move over to the ESOP world. I think it needs to and I think there ought to be a more concerted effort in the ESOP world around this. We've seen some great work by the National Center for Employee Ownership and Kellogg Foundation has been looking at the number of people of color in ESOP companies and gains to people of color. So there's really some wonderful work that's beginning. Hats off to both National Center for Employee Ownership and Kellogg for that great work.

But let me also offer one of the ways that we're starting to bring employee ownership together with issues of advancement for racial equity. We have a new concept which we call local economy preservation funds. And at the Democracy Collaborative a number of colleagues and I developed this concept when COVID hit and the economy was shut down and we shared the concern that we're going to lose a lot of small businesses. And we looked at a model called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was used in the New Deal to keep a lot of businesses alive. And this was a national entity that invested in and ended up owning shares in thousands of companies and really helped the economy through the Great Depression and into recovery.

And we said, shouldn't we have something like that in the COVID moment? So it's a locally economy preservation fund, and we wrote about this and it was published as an op-ed and people started coming out of the woodwork. This, I've been in this, the policy and big ideas arena for a long time and I've never seen the kind of interest that I've seen in this. And so we're working with a number of cities and states and development finance agencies on it. They have interest in developing a local economy preservation fund. And the idea is it would be a holding company. You would invest equity or quasi equity in companies and put that, those shares, into a holding company, help the companies, a private equity firm does, and then an exit in recovery.

And these local economy preservation funds would be particularly focused on benefiting people of color. Existing owners of companies who are people of color and also on transitioning firms to employee ownership, and the idea would be, and women as well. So the idea would be let's keep these companies locally owned over the long term. Let's not just rescue a company, and then have it sold to private equity in five years, or have it sold to a capital acquirer in five years. Let's keep it locally owned and make that a strong aim of these locally economy preservation funds. They ought to use federal dollars, but they ought to have decision-making as low to the ground as possible and in the community. People know their communities and we want to benefit community economies and include the people who have been long excluded. We shouldn't just be creating a new elite or rescuing an elite. Let's get asset ownership into broad-based hands.

This concept, we're working right now in Boston with a number of groups and it's fascinating, Bret. Because let me just back up and say that there's a couple of things that we're trying to do here. And one is, I don't think we're in the business of selling employee ownership. I think employee ownership is a tool. And I think what we're selling is thriving, local economies. We're selling broad-based prosperity. We're selling racial equity gains. I think that's what we're selling. And I think employee ownership is a tool to get there.

And so we deliberately named these local economy preservation funds. We didn't -- most people don't care about ownership. Most people don't think of ownership as a tool for social change. I think you and I know and the ESOP community knows that's where the real power in our economy is. That's where the real stability -- you get some real stability in your life, if you have some assets. And but most people don't even know how to think about that or how you might even use that as a tool for social change. So what we're selling is benefit to local economies because everybody cares about their local economy.

We've seen this in In Newark, which was doing some employee ownership work. And Prudential was one of the investors in some of that work. And I don't think Prudential particularly cares about employee ownership, but it cares about Newark. And so it wanted to invest in let's keep companies thriving in our community.

So local economies, our local communities, that's the benefit that we're selling. And then inside that we're combining, and this is another insight that we were operating on. And that is that employee ownership should be tucked into other aims. That it shouldn't just be, we didn't call these employee ownership funds, we call them local economy preservation funds. And so they should benefit people of color and women who are designated as disadvantaged and they should also be benefiting employees. And so we're, as I come back to what I said earlier, we're working on the standing up one of these in Boston and lots of players. I don't want to, I'm just an advisor to this work. The real work is being done by people on the ground. And I don't want to name people because this is all very nascent work, but there are, they're business -- there's a black restaurant owners association that's part of this. There's a Latinx business owners association that's part of this. They're very excited about this. There's a group there that's working on employee ownership. And there is, there's a community development financial institution there that is mostly serving people of color and owners of color. And so there's a, there's this broad coalition and employee ownership is at the table.

And it's fascinating, Bret, because what we're having to explain over and over again how employee ownership works and, maybe this would be an exit option for for business owners and maybe there'll be businesses right now that the owners need to get out and that they want to transition to employee ownership as a way to keep the firm alive. And maybe other cases there's black and brown owned businesses and that those are going to be the businesses that the fund will invest in.

So it's a kind of a big tent idea and employee ownership is at the table, but not, it's not a siloed thing. It's not the only thing. So we'll see how it's going to work. But one of the things we're looking at is every business that receives an investment from this fund, when it's time for that business to be sold that they would be required to do an exit planning exercise and employee ownership ought to be one of the options they look at, not the only one, but they ought to have support in looking at all their options, including employee ownership and we're being told that alone will increase a lot of employee ownership deals.

So it's an example of how we can make employee ownership part of a bigger conversation, part of a broader concern, local economy, keeping thriving people of color and, serving low income people. So it's an interesting example, Bret. We're seeing a lot of interest.

Bret Keisling: [00:31:30] In all of your background, your career background, journalism, advocacy. And it returns for just a moment to the stagnation, which my word, not yours, but of the number of ESOPs. And by the way, co-ops and collectives in some respect are really cool. And I really respect that. The reason, and this is for our listeners, the reason that ESOPs get the lion's share of attention is there are about 6,300 ESOP companies and about four or 500 co-ops and collectives. It also requires just to a point that you made the ESOP community in my opinion needs to... a lot of us say that we are agnostic and that we would work with all of them. I think the ESOP community really needs to do a better job of understanding why it's important for the ESOP community to bring along the co-ops and collectives and to use some of our legislative lobbying ability to help our cousins in employee ownership because employee ownership anywhere helps all of us.

So my question in terms of all of the challenges and are they growing, not fast enough, that sort of thing. And we all know certain tidbits that we hear all the time, for example, the number of Baby Boomers who have their businesses and it's all legitimate. But, do we not quite have the right message or are we not giving the message to the right people? In terms of the traction, do we need to change our message or just expand it?

Marjorie Kelly: [00:32:52] I think both. I think we need to tell a bigger story and I think we need to not be afraid to talk about creating more prosperity for more people and including people of color in that prosperity. And we need to not be afraid of policy. And so, I think that building a democratic economy is a matter of concern to both right and left. We all live in our economy. It's not this big divide in politics that we have right now. We need to find common ground. We know that wealth inequality, is it staggering levels, Bret. And if we proceed to -- billionaires have seen their wealth grow by tens of billions of dollars since COVID began. And people of color and low income people there's more need for food banks and food stamps than ever before. So we're seeing this huge bifurcation of our economy, where some people are just thriving, just have obscene, let's use that word, obscene levels of wealth. And some people cannot feed their children. We have children going to bed hungry in America right now. And that is, if we don't care about that, what are we doing? Should we continue to behave? This is the 1970s and when Kelso invented it, and now we're going to keep doing what we've been doing for the last three decades and keep getting the same outcome we've gotten, which is stagnation.

And we have our hands, Bret, on something that is brilliant. That is workable. That is hidden for strange reasons. And that ought to be the future of our country and our economy. And it will benefit a lot of people. Let's not be afraid to tell that story. Let's try our wings, that it's okay to care about people who are left out.

I think that business owners hear that. I think people in ESOP community know, the business owners, they care about their employees. They want them to thrive. There are so many business owners who will sell to the highest bidder because that's the norm in our, in that's means you're a winner and that's what you're supposed to do. There's so much pressure for that. And and then five years later, they see their company sold again and again. And they see the social values that they cared about driven out. They see employees not being treated well or maybe laid off or production has moved overseas. There are a lot of business owners who really regret selling in the way that they did.

And so I think that we have these values as an ESOP community and let's not be afraid to talk about them.


Bret Keisling: [00:35:30] I'm grateful to Marjorie Kelly for joining me on the podcast and to Karen Kahn of Employee Ownership News who facilitated Marjorie and Jon Shell's various appearances on our podcast. You can find all of the episodes with Marjorie and John, as well as our entire archives, at or wherever you get your podcasts.

Please join us next week for part two of my conversation with Marjorie Kelly. Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling; be well.

Bitsy McCann: [00:36:07] We'd love to hear from you! To contact us, find us on Facebook at KEISOP, LLC and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. To reach Bret, with one "T", email, on LinkedIn at Bret Keisling, and most actively on Twitter at @EO_Bret. Again, that's one "T". This podcast has been produced by The KEISOP Group, technical assistance provided by Third Circle, Inc. and BitsyPlus Design. Original music composed by Max Keisling, archival podcast material edited and produced by Brian Keisling.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Descript, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The EsOp Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.


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