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160: The NCEO’s 2021 Fall ESOP Forum

Bret Keisling is joined by Tim Garbinsky, the National Center for Employee Ownership's communications director, who discusses the upcoming NCEO Fall ESOP Forum, the importance of the EO/ESOP community, and shares two EO A-ha Moments.

... or watch the video of Episode 160 below.


Episode 160 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. It is the middle of the summer, and that means one thing in employee ownership, we are looking forward to kicking off the fall conference season. And, sincerely folks, praise the Lord, the pandemic is not over yet. It's not done, but we are meeting in person.

The NCEO Fall Forum is September 22nd to the 24th. It's being held live in San Diego. It's also available online and I am very happy to welcome back to the podcast the NCEO communications director, Timothy Garbinsky.

Tim, thank you so much for coming on.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:01:01] Bret, thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here to talk with you about the Forum and anything else that strikes us.

Bret Keisling: [00:01:07] Well, as you know that -- you just opened the door and we'll see where it goes.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:01:12] Let's walk through it.

Bret Keisling: [00:01:13] Anybody who's listening in employee ownership certainly knows your work as communications director of NCEO. I do want to point out that you and Ramona [Rodriguez-Brooks] from your team were on Episode 74 way back in May of 2019 it aired. So, if folks want to get to know you a little bit and your background, they can also check out Episode 74.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:01:31] I encourage you to do so with the caveat that that was a me that hadn't yet lived through 2020. So, it was a very different version of me, and I hope you enjoy hearing what the younger version of me has to say.

Bret Keisling: [00:01:42] Well it's actually Tim, very sincerely, we have all progressed. We have all changed and grown and certainly my earlier podcasts are not where I am today. But I do take note that there are two camps in the country, it seems to be, regarding the pandemic. The one camp just does not recognize 2020. Whereas you seem to be of the camp of, hey, this is after I got through 2020.

So, you acknowledged the 2020 was a year, you're not just writing off whole year.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:02:08] 2020 happened. It was on the calendar. I existed through the entirety of it and I'm a different person afterwards. That's true of every year to be fair. But 2020 of course was not like every year, even for those of us who probably like to ignore things that it was if by dint of the fact that all of a sudden you have compatriots who think it wasn't, right.

It's definitely an interesting conundrum of how the culture adapts from here writ large. But I, for one, yeah, I experienced 2020. I got through it fine. I'm happy to be here. It, all things considered, wasn't the worst thing in the world. It was just a lot more isolated than years past for the most part. Again, grateful to be where I am, but not going to not acknowledge that it happened.

Bret Keisling: [00:02:44] Well and that's obviously the best way to be. And one of the things that we can talk about a little bit, but then I do want to get to your A-ha Moment, but maybe I'll tee this up for later, but it's worth noting. Things did change in 2020 dramatically and we haven't quite figured out what the future really looks like. We're still working that out. But, for example, and watch this masterful segue back to our topic: you folks never did an online component until COVID hit. Ivette Torres, who is the wonderful member of your team, was on two of the podcasts because we had such a great chat that was about your annual conference that's held each spring and she talked about the transition, the necessity, of that being online only. Now we're about to talk, this is the masterful segue, we're about to talk about the San Diego conference, which you are bringing back excitedly. I'm excited. I expect to be in San Diego in-person. But it's going to have the online component and it wouldn't surprise anybody if there ends up always being an online component for a variety of reasons.

So that's something that is working its way through the pandemic at the NCEO.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:03:51] That's absolutely right. I like looking for silver linings. I don't love taking something as messy as a pandemic and being like, it was good for us, but there is a component of the inventiveness that it unlocked at the NCEO and the sort of nimbleness with which we shifted.

Regular listeners or anybody who wants to go back and listen to that interview with Ivette, I'm sure, will hear more in depth. By necessity all of a sudden, a month away from our conference and we can't be in person. What do we do? And Ivette got down to brass tacks, the rest of us jumped in line and followed suit, and we were able to adapt in a way that I think laid groundwork for us going forward, and then not so immodestly set the tone a little bit for the rest of the community. I think we were the big, first big event, in the employee ownership space that was happening after the shutdown.

So, continuing along those lines, we're also happy to be one of the first big events that's coming back in person. I know there've been a handful of others, some of the smaller ones, some of the local ones, and I know The ESOP Association, our friends over there, have been able to do in-person steps slowly but surely. And we're happy to be sort of part of those ranks.

So yes, very excitedly. I am chomping at the bit to see all my old friends in San Diego. But of course, different people are going to have different levels of comfort with this. We're going to have, of course, safety protocols on site, as you do, but you want to make this an accessible event for as many people as possible. And with that in mind, that's what my colleague, the events director, Jordan Boone has been, I don't want to say pioneering, but in a certain sense, originating for us here at the NCEO, that sort of hybrid component.

Jordan is very practiced in the virtual space and in the live space, she manages the webinars from multiple years back now. So, she's very comfortable managing that sort of online education and content delivery. And she was one of the ones who first got the Forum to take off a few years ago. She didn't originate the idea, but she took it over, I want to say in its second year, and it's grown since. She's very comfortable in those spaces. She's comfortable with putting these new ideas out there. She's both during this pandemic and before it, originated new meetings, ideas which have been largely pretty successful and which we're excited to continue in whatever format best suits our audience.

And I think that's really the name of the game is, how do we provide the education, networking, and expertise that our members and our attendees and our community has come to not only expect, but really need, especially in times like this in a way that they're comfortable accessing. In a way that they can access it on their time and their comfort level.

And so, we have this hybrid event. If you want to be in person, we have slots available. It'll be a little bit more limited than it's been in the past because we have to ensure sort of social distancing, what have you. So, we can't fill up quite as much as we would have in the past, but we have a few hundred slots available, I believe.

There will also be for those who are onsite still the virtual component, you can still access things via your computer. It's a hybrid event for those of us who will be there in person. And then for those of us who won't be there in person, there will be plenty of online content both before and during. There'll be interviews of the videos and then there will, of course be the sessions that people are used to.

I'll stop there. I feel like I just went on quite a while there, but I'm I think you can tell pretty genuinely excited to get this event going. I'm eager to see people.

Bret Keisling: [00:07:03] First of all, I like it, and we're going to circle back in just a moment, but it turns out my segue was not as masterful as I thought, because I skipped over what I start with. As you are aware since last September, every guest of the podcast has shared what we have taken to call the EO A-ha Moment. The moment where we came to realize that employee ownership wasn't just a good idea but had the potential to be transformative. I don't wish to ask you a leading question, Tim, but have you ever had an A-ha Moment or moments?

Tim Garbinsky: [00:07:39] [Laugh] Thank you very much, Bret. First of all, I thought your masterful segue was masterful. So, I wouldn't take away that compliment, but I do love the opportunity to talk about my A-ha Moment. I thought a little bit about it, and I wanted to choose something different, but that would be dishonest. I have one real true A-ha Moment.

And it's separate from my, I actually worked at an employee-owned company very briefly before I worked at the NCEO and I never took part in or even saw people really got to reap the benefits of it yet. Because I was young, none of us were retiring yet and I wasn't there particularly long, but there was a level to the engagement for this job that was unheard of in my other jobs.

But that, wasn't my A-ha Moment. Believe it or not. My A-ha Moment and I'm going to assume that somebody else has used this since you've been doing this since September, but I hope not.

I started at the NCEO in 2014 and I want to say it was in either late 2014 or early 2015. There was an article in Forbes magazine about a woman who's named currently escapes me. But she worked at WinCo, the grocery chain mostly popular in the upper Midwest and the Western states. I think they're based out of Idaho, but they're dotted around this part of the country. And she was in her forties and she and her twin sister, I believe, they had applied for a job at WinCo at the same time in their twenties. One of them got the job. One couldn't. They had a nepotism clause, I believe, in a hiring at WinCo. And them's the breaks; one gets the job. One moves on to other pastures, moves around a little bit ends up working as a, I want to say paralegal.

The woman who ends up at WinCo stays there for the next 20 years, perhaps she's still there, I'm not sure I haven't followed up. But she stays there for 20 years and she works very sort of frontline jobs, stocker, cashier. And you could say a million different things about maybe a lack of upward mobility within the job. I have lots of different thoughts about that in general, but by her forties, she had a million dollars in her ESOP account at WinCo. While her sister, who had bounced around, but did land on her feet and landed on her feet well. She was working at the paralegal. That's a good job. And had maybe a quarter of much. And it's really that story that still sticks with me to this day of there's no reason anybody anywhere, no matter what they're doing working, can't be granted a retirement. Can't have earned their keep and then have this sort of stability and future to look forward to.

Anyway, I think about that story a lot. I've dined out on it many times and I wish I had a different A-ha Moment because I just have to imagine that was a lot of people's A-ha Moment. I think it got a lot of press. But it really is the thing that made me sit and take notice of like, all right, if we can scale this is revolutionary. Like this can really, this does more than move the needle. If we can get enough companies to adopt this sort of plan and this sort of thinking and this sort of level of care and stewardship to the people that are taking care and stewarding the company.

Bret Keisling: [00:10:35] That is wonderful. And if you hear a little catch in my throat, it's sincere. First of all, we, and all of us who do the kind of work that you and I do, which is just to support employee ownership. And there are a bunch of folks, some we work with, some we're in the same space with, some we've never heard of, but we all take it seriously. It's a view beyond the transaction, not to knock those who are more transactional.

The specific story. I haven't heard that before of the woman from WinCo. There certainly have been stories of, as that when people see the money, and we don't mean that as crassly as that sounds, but when somebody retires with a big old check that's when a lot of people get it.

Do I understand that when you saw that story, you were already at the NCEO?

Tim Garbinsky: [00:11:32] That's correct. That's correct.

Bret Keisling: [00:11:34] Here's Tim, what I think is so important about it. First of all, that's a great moment to get it. That is a perfect A-ha Moment. Here's what I like about it for what I'm trying to do as I collect these A-ha Moments.

Certainly, many members of my audience have had their own A-ha Moments, but there are people who still don't get it. Or don't get it, or haven't had to get it, or maybe checking this out because they're kicking the tires of EO. They've heard about your conference. Now they've run into this podcast. Here's the point that I want to drive home.

You were an employee owner and you didn't have an A-ha Moment. You worked for the NCEO where you took your job seriously. You did it well, you hadn't had an A-ha Moment. The transformative moments, if people are listening -- I just don't get it. Stick around. Something will happen, but it fits into the bucket, and three or four people have shared anecdotes where they worked for employee-owned companies. I'll mention my friend, Vince Kruse. He was the go-to guy for ESOPs at USA Mortgage and he didn't get it till he went to one of the TEA chapter events. One of your colleagues, I think of that, but I've talked to a number of them now worked for a small employer ownership didn't get it until going to a conference. Here, you got that. So, my message is, boy, we don't know where that lightning is going to hit but I love that A-ha Moment. I think it's great. And that's what I wanted to point out to people listening.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:13:14] I appreciate that. No, I think, there's something about an A-ha Moment that it's beyond just understanding academically, intellectually, even like a little bit emotionally, the benefits of what it is you're working for and having almost like an awakening, right?

I don't want to describe it in spiritual terms because it's not a spiritual thing. Not at all, for me, it's very much a real material thing that we're dealing with here. But yeah, you're absolutely right. I was already a believer in this for other reasons. I was already a supporter of it for the same reasons as well, but I hadn't seen the sort of genuinely large material benefit it could create under the right circumstances.

I was already a firm believer. I like to believe I was already a good employee. But even with that, I do think I was missing that sort of, clearing in the sky, the clouds move, and everything has like the stark clarity to it. And that's what that moment provided and for what it's worth, that was just the first.

I think there's a way in which other moments had I not had that would have been it or an earlier moment could have supplanted it, but that was the most grand of them all. Since then, of course there's been stories about let's say Stewart's Shops, I believe they're in upstate New York. Multiple million dollar store clerks and cashiers, right? This is not an uncommon thing anymore, not at least to see in the news and those would have been my A-ha Moments had I not had the earlier one.

A-ha Moments abound if you stick around, I think is the case here, Bret. You're absolutely right.

Bret Keisling: [00:14:35] Tim, in fairness for those who are listening as well, and it's just a reality. If you're immersed in the field, as you are and as I am, I do have them regularly. And I'll drop a couple of episodes that we've done for people who are listening. When John Shell of Social Capital Partners of Canada was on the podcast with Marjorie Kelly of The Democracy Collaborative, and he talked about arranging the financing for Taylor Guitars to go employee owned from a hospital pension fund in Canada. Where he's saying here's a pension fund that said, yes, this is a good investment. I've never, ever heard that before -- A-ha Moment.

There are plenty of times. Give you one other example, and I guess I am name-dropping, and I will follow up with an email. By the time this episode airs, we're going to have an episode with Loren Rodgers and a couple of folks from Scott insurance. You guys have launched a captive insurance program with health and property and casually. And again, there's some time travel with podcasts here, by the time people hear this episode that will have aired several weeks prior. But I think the best way, I'd love to have Loren on the podcast just to talk about just everything that he has seen and done. And I think with Loren, if I reached out to him and just said, would you come and talk about yourself? I don't get the sense that is Loren's vibe at all. But I think that the approach with Loren is, Loren can you just share your top four or five A-ha Moments. And can we just talk about why are they important? And to me people like that, people, and you do have some, and I asked you to pick one, but boy, if we just look around, they abound. You are correct.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:16:17] They really do. I think that'd be great for you to have Loren on just to chat about it. He's got one of the most encyclopedic sort of views of this world, this sort of EO space and like well-versed in other forms too, of the employee ownership trust with the worker co-ops. He's seen all sides of it and it's truly his passion. It's invigorating to hear him talk about and, lord knows, other people would have A-ha Moments listening to his A-ha Moments. I'm sure like it would be, I think, a worthwhile topic of conversation. I would encourage that. Absolutely.

I'm reminded of -- all right, one more story. I'll say one more.

Bret Keisling: [00:16:48] And we'll talk about the Fall Forum, to the listeners.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:16:51] That's right. I promise. I promise it's on the agenda. It's on the agenda.

I interviewed this gentleman who was retiring from a company I'm going to anonymize it if only because of the connections I made in my head. I never quite put out into the world. He worked for a company in Chicago. It was an employee-owned company and he was in the process of retiring maybe three years early. Which in and of itself is already something that's going the way of the dodo. You don't hear about it. So that on its own, retiring comfortably early was going to get to spend a bunch of time on his grandkids. He's super excited. That was already this sort of wonderful conversation. And I brought up Chicago only because his wife was a teacher in Chicago. May still be, I'm not entirely sure. The next day, I get Google alerts for all types of stuff as the communications director, I'm always monitoring the news, what happened? Didn't have anything to do with employee ownership, but it was about how the Chicago's teacher pensions were being completely defunded, had been gutted. And this sort of stark contrast between, you would hope that teachers would have this retirement would be taken care of in the same way at minimum. And to see that at least her husband is in this completely free form non-government involved way. It just set up this really stark contrast for me of oh man, okay thank God employee ownership is there for this family when the city of Chicago has let them down So again, I'll stop there because. I don't want, I don't want Mayor Lightfoot coming for me.

Bret Keisling: [00:18:11] Okay. First of all, I just got to say completely gratuitously, I would love if Mayor Lightfoot called you, because that means that this podcast got some momentum in Chicago. [Laughter.] So do me a favor. I'm okay with that. But one of the things to tie things out nationally, because there are challenges and pension funds, not EO in terms of retirement funds and public-school teachers, not EO, but critically important, et cetera.

But one of the things to put this in perspective and bringing it back to EO is we know the data is now in, during the pandemic, three to four times less likely to have layoffs, three to four times less likely to fire. And there are plenty of EO companies that pivoted and have grown and have added people. What that means anywhere in the country is the employee owner is less likely to call on the food banks, less likely to be on unemployment, less likely to need the infrastructure that we should have in place. But employee owners are just poised better. And that comes down to, and this is why we do what we do. Employee ownership accidentally impacts so much of what we find important in society.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:19:21] Yeah. Or you can take it one step further in that, so many of these companies, the people who founded them, the people who sell them, and the people who work for them and end up owning them as employee owners tend to carry that sort of altruism with them beyond just the sort of employee ownership capacity. It's not uncommon that you see companies like Torch Technologies in Huntsville, Alabama, or NewAge [Industries] there in Pennsylvania are, they're giving companies. They donate. They volunteer a lot. They do a lot within their community beyond just being those sorts of anchoring institutions for those communities.

And it's, those things they ripple out. Like you said, like intentionally and unintentionally, the effects are felt far and wide. So, I'm a strong proponent of it and for good reason, there's no shortage of reasons. They abound, it keeps saying the same word, but they do abound.

Bret Keisling: [00:20:15] Anytime, and then we're going to go back to San Diego, these have been challenging times for the collective. And if we can find anything that is bountiful or abundant, I think it's positive for all of us to spread it around and just be mindful of all the positives going around going around us as we work really hard to address the things that are not positive.

So, with that, couple of hundred people, why don't you give me the nickel tour, if you don't mind? We've got the dates. Is there any pre-event registration, fees?

Tim Garbinsky: [00:20:46] Yes, alright, sure. Absolutely. To start with, like we said, it takes place the 22nd through the 24th. There's a pre-conference on the 22nd. Throughout onsite, of course, there'll be events. We have yet to decide what some of those events will be, but there'll be a lot of onsite excitement as there always is at these things. In the run-up to it, we're going to be releasing a little bit of content in dribs and drabs here. Not the least of which will be tied to our annual award, which is a part of the Fall Forum, which is the achievement award.

Every Forum tends to have a theme. This year's theme, we wanted to go beyond the sort of, shifting or adapting or whatever it was that the - was, excuse me, that the crisis talk brought out of different companies and get to a different word, which is evolution is sometimes sped up by different processes, maybe. 2020, maybe being one of those sort of catalyzing things that sped up the process. But from time immemorial, in order to have a business in order to successfully serve your community with whatever it is you're doing with in order to grow your business, evolution has always been the name of the game. You pivot to new sectors. You bring up new revenue streams. You have to be inventive in order to survive. It's a part of the life cycle of any company.

So, this year we have our theme of evolution about how ESOPs have evolved and will continue to transform in this young decade and with this new generation, that's beginning to take over the helm. ESOPs are tending to get younger. It's a more interesting space now, as they begin to get more let's say media play. They're becoming more talked about in mainstream media business, et cetera. And so, the ways in which that's going to lead to evolution within the EO space and the ways in which particular companies are evolving.

So, I'll be doing some interviews with some companies that have pivoted, evolved, changed, grown in either the last year or over the course of their ESOP in interesting ways. I'm going to be doing a few, I won't name any companies, yet, just in case, but we have a few good ones that should be coming up soon. And we'll be releasing those on the online platform before we have the Forum, actually.

So, there'll be some content in the run-up to the Forum that people will be able to engage with as a part of their registration. Speaking of their registration right now, it is a hundred dollars off. We're still in the early bird portion of the registration phase. So right now, the Forum, if you are attending virtually $275 for members, $500 for non-members. If you were going to be hybrid, which is to say both onsite and online, it's $525 for members, $675 for non-members. You can attend the pre-conference on its own or add that to your Forum registration for a different fee.

Again, everything is still a hundred dollars off until early bird ends, which is after August 11th of this year, of course. So just over a month remaining for the early bird registration, maybe by the time you hear this, probably only a few weeks. So don't delay register today!

There's also a group rate, of course, you can save $25 per person if you were registering four or more attendees.

And for listeners for this podcast, we actually do have a discount. So, if you are listening to this podcast, you can also save an additional $25 off your hybrid or your virtual registration with the code EOPod25. So that's capital E, capital O, capital P, lowercase o, lowercase d, 25 for an additional $25 off your registration.

Bret Keisling: [00:24:23] You folks were kind enough to do that a discount for my listeners in the [NCEO] Spring Conference. I didn't know and we didn't talk that you were going to do that again. And I just want to thank you very much, first of all, thank you for giving a discount to my listeners, but I'm very proud of my role that is self-carved-out of supporting everybody. And it's just nice to feel that your organization is supporting the podcast a little bit with that. So, I hope my listeners take advantage of it. I'm a little bit guilty, or I feel a little bit guilty for you guys because some of my listeners would register anyway, but I want them to use the discount! But thank you. I just, I appreciate it. It means a lot that you guys are supporting what I'm doing and giving the discounts. So, thank you.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:25:04] Oh, of course. No, honestly. And we're happy to give the discount too. Anybody who's listening to your podcast is engaged. In a way that goes above and beyond what they might need to do. And I think that's worthy of rewarding, honestly. So, I don't see that as I'm sure they would have paid full price. So be it. We're happy to have those true believers with us no matter what.

And then, of course, happy to support the podcast. I'm glad to hear that Loren has been on. I'm glad to hear that Ivette's been on, I think it will be, it'd be nice to have Dallan [Guzinski, the NCEO's Director of Culture & Engagement] on would probably be great. And also Corey [Rosen, Ph.D., founder of the NCEO]. I think it's just fun to get on these things and chat more and anything we can do to bring this more to the floor and you're doing the honest work out here and we're happy to support it.

Bret Keisling: [00:25:41] I really appreciate that. And Tim, I'm going do what a little bit of podcast housekeeping a little bit, if you don't mind. Because I appreciate for our regular listeners, there has been a decent amount of NCEO content in the last six months. And, first of all, I really appreciate it because it's actually NCEO reaching out to me, and I'll drop a couple of names beyond the ones that you have mentioned. It actually started Suzanne Vinson who's in, I think, the billing department or handles operations like that sent an email to everybody saying hey, wouldn't it be nice if there was some collaboration? In this particular podcast, I think it's Megan [Bonwell, Event and Executive Assistant] from the NCEO who sent an email to you and I saying, hey, wouldn't it be great for Tim. I think Suzanne suggested the Loren and the Scott Insurance podcast. So first of all, I really appreciate, and you mentioned Jordan earlier, but I happen to have in this just where now life gets serendipitous, Chris Michaels was doing one of your online webinars on employee ownership trusts. And I happened to have had a recorded episode that hadn't aired yet. So, I actually dropped the episode on the same day that you had done the meeting and did a tie in together. But this is where it's self-serving and it's for all of the other organizations, all of the other practitioners and employee-owned companies.

Coming up with content is hard. I really love what I do. Please know that if people reach out to me and say, maybe this would be a good podcast, it is! So, I'm really appreciating the NCEO, but that was a long-winded way of saying I wish everybody would reach out and say, hey, there's something to talk about because I just want to talk about what's going on.

So, thank you very much for you guys. And now let me bring it back to San Diego. And we now have the September 22nd through the 24th. I put $525 for the hybrid. Do I have that right?

Tim Garbinsky: [00:27:23] Yes, sir. 525 if you were a member of the NCEO.

Bret Keisling: [00:27:26] And Tim, you mentioned earlier the non-membership fee, I can't stress it enough. Join NCEO! The stuff you have on the website, the materials that you folks have available. And by the way, you put an awful lot of stuff in the public domain, there is a lot of research, a lot of information that is absolutely free to everybody. And I rely on that, but I belong to NCEO. I encourage everybody to do it.

Tim, as we're recording this and for our listeners, it's just after the 4th of July holiday. And this is probably going to air third, fourth week of July. The speaker proposal deadline has just closed a couple of days before the holiday. So, I'm assuming there aren't a whole lot of content details yet. You probably are just starting to sift through proposals and decisions.

So, with that in mind, can you just give us a little taste of what the expectations are and maybe in August, you'd be kind enough to pop on again and share in detail what the flow is. But just give a taste of what your expectations are in terms of content or flow.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:28:27] Yes, I would love to do that. And of course, I would also love to come back and chat with you about the actual content of the Forum as it gets solidified. I didn't say this when we were talking about registration, but I'll say it here now. If you're wondering what's going on with the Forum, if you do want to register, if you want to see if the agenda is up yet, all of that can be found at, so make sure to check that out periodically. There will be more posted there over time. You can find out information about the awards such as the achievement award, if case your company or a company, would be a good fit for that about sort of the theme of evolution. All of that is up on, so I definitely encourage you to check that out.

But you're absolutely right. The speaker proposal deadline did just pass this past weekend. Hopefully by the time this airs, there'll be a little bit more information up on that website, but in the event that there isn't just to give you a little bit of my view from the inside of sort of the identity of the Forum, the benefits of the Forum.

The Forum was started for several different reasons, but I'll give two. One is because we had several smaller meetings. " Is an ESOP right for you?" was one of them. We had "Get the most out of your ESOP." We have two or three sort of smaller ESOP meetings, one to two days meetings, that we realized that the content was copacetic together. And it made sense to blend all this into an event where people could, forgive the use of the phrase again, get the most out of the time with us, right? So, to get the most meetings along with a few other meetings, turned into the Fall ESOP Forum.

The other thing that we wanted to do was give people another opportunity to get some of the same information that they're used to getting from us, just in a different format and in a different environment. The conference is frequently, and rightfully, the centerpiece of our events calendar. It's the very biggest event that we do. But around it, we do a lot of other stuff. Like I mentioned, Jordan manages the webinars, which weekly give you that sort of content, just in a very different format. The newsletters as well. They used to be every two months, now they're monthly and they contain a lot of the same sort of fantastic content specific to members, but still up-to-the-minute updates with political developments or latest best practices in valuation, et cetera, et cetera. You'll find all that in the newsletter.

But we want to be able to meet people where they are. So, what it does is it allows us another venue where you might be able to have a more sort of, again, another more intimate or personalized experience to your company. It's slightly more navigable in that respect. It's a little bit more closed focus on ESOP companies specifically. We tend to be very expansive at the conference, rightfully so, we have the space, the time to do so there. And instead, we use a somewhat equivalent amount of time to really dig in on best practices, on stuff that like more current events are touching on, and again, also with the networking component. It's a very sort of lovely way to be able to have another sort of touch with the community without having to feel like the sort of grandiosity of the conference.

This provides all the same content, all the great experiences, but in just a slightly different setting. And also, this is an adjacent idea, in a different time period, right? If you can't make the main conference for a wide variety of reasons, that's a pretty cloudy part of the calendar for some people, this gives you another period of time later on in the year to catch up on some of those things. And then also as the year goes on, there's also more developments.

This has been one of the things I'm most excited about is that this has been a very politically active year for the employee ownership space. And I'm anticipating a lot of good conversations about what's maybe on the horizon politically. How the political developments of the past, let's say, seven months have impacted or might impact this space. It's really, I think it's been essential to add an extra meeting and this extra meeting, to Jordan's credit, isn't just an extra meeting. It has an identity of its own and has become really an essential part of employee ownership and ESOP education for so many of our members. And we hope that this hybrid format will just allow that to continue to grow and continue to be a big part of the way in which people learn and grow within this community.

So, whether you're new to this space and you're just getting your sea legs about you. You can join us online, have your own little curriculum going and get caught up to speed. Or if you've been in this space for 20, 30 years, and you're just trying to stay ahead of the ways in which it's moving, the ways in which it's careening towards the next bend. Who knows what lies around the corner? And this is one of the ways we can all get together and see, hey, here's how we prepare for the future. Here's what's coming up. Here's what we've done in the past year to make sure that we're doing okay. It just provides all those wonderful outlets.

And so, I'm, it's one of the events I look to, look forward to the most, I would say especially since it's in person, I can't stress enough how eager I am to be back on site with people. I've already been getting texts from some of my friends within this. Making sure that like, hey, it's registration open. Because I want to see you in San Diego! So, I'm eager as can be, to be back with my friends in San Diego.

Bret Keisling: [00:33:29] Tim, I got to tell you, you have hit a chord with me. I, when I was one of the partners at Capital Trustees, was on the road three weeks out of every month and loved every minute of it between conferences and site visits and loved travel so much. Completely coincidental that I was divorced a couple of years, wasn't dating anybody and had no life! Completely coincidental of that! But I traveled everywhere and spent the year before the pandemic, I moved up to Denver because it was just a hotbed of employee ownership as you know and wanted to learn more about co-ops and collectives and that's a great place for it. I've traveled between Colorado and Pennsylvania dozen times by car. And I'm going to be in San Diego, in person. I'm very excited. I'm going to drive there. I'm already planning, like I'm going to be in California for a month and making appointments and working on the podcast and employee ownership and that sort of thing. But also, at the point in my life where I'm like, if I'm going to be in California, I'm going to see some stuff and do some things. Still not sure whether I'm going to make it up to Oakland. You folks are there, which I'm going to see you in San Diego, the folks at Project Equity. Talk about another hotbed. Partly, I want to make a pilgrimage of three or four days to Oakland and just introduce myself to a lot of folks there. But I'm really looking forward to being in the person at the conference. That is very cool.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:34:49] Yeah. We're looking forward to having you and anybody who's listening who cares. We're eager to get back there in person. There's really nothing like the energy of the NCEO in person events. It's a good group that shows up always, and it doesn't matter if it's 400 or 500 people, or if it's 2000 people. It's always this fantastic positive energy. People are open-minded. They're engaged. They're there to learn. They're there to have fun. It's -- every time it just reinvigorates the work I do. And especially after a year or so of being on Zoom, and I'm grateful I can do what I do just being on Zoom. Absolutely. And I think I'm ready for that jolt of energy that I know the Forum is going to provide.

So, I'm super excited to see you there. If you make it up to Oakland, I'll buy you a beer or whatever your beverage of choice. But otherwise, I'll honor that same thing in San Diego, if that's the only opportunity we get.

Bret Keisling: [00:35:44] Well, I appreciate that Tim, and particularly the beverage of choice as I am very pleased on Memorial Day, I celebrated 31 years of sobriety.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:35:52] Good for you!

Bret Keisling: [00:35:52] So if it's okay with you, I will choose not to have the first beer in 31 years, just because you are buying it for me.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:35:59] Yeah. Please. Don't. Not on my account.

Bret Keisling: [00:36:01] But a lot of people wouldn't have thrown into "or beverage of your choice," so I appreciate that.

Tim, let me just do, and we will wrap this up then. We just homed in on, understandably, our excitement for the in-person visits, but let me make two comments. First of all, if you are considering -- if you're a selling shareholder, if you are considering an ESOP and you've kicked the tires a little bit, maybe you're ready to go to an in-person conference. And, by the way, no better way to be surrounded by advisors. If you want to kick the tires. And I don't mean to be cynical. I was a trustee. I had to land clients show up as a business owner and say, "I'm thinking about maybe doing an ESOP" and you will be treated like royalty by people that just want to be your friend. But you have great resources available.

But if you're not even at that stage where you want to go and check out a conference, register virtually. Get the taste of the information. You'll be able to learn about ESOPs and put you on the path between the practical, the cultural, the technical, the legal, the regulatory stuff. So, I think the virtual is specifically really good for that.

And the other thing that I want to stress on the virtual side, Tim. Is I wish everybody could go to in-person conferences. I wish that capacity wasn't an issue for the organizations. I wish budget wasn't an issue. All of that stuff, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But budget is a reality. Time is a reality and that sort of thing. NCEO in particular has made it so affordable to go virtually. If you've always sent two people to a conference. In the past, I'd say try and send four; send two and bring on four or five virtually. If you've seen a dozen, and you big companies know who you are, maybe you can do 20 virtually.

Because when we talk about the A-ha Moments, the employee owners who have been on the podcast and have had their A-ha Moment. Inevitably it's at a conference, it's a connection. So, if you want your employee owners to really get fired up, and I think it's a bad phrase but "drink the Kool-Aid" send them to a conference. That's one, Tim, I try to monitor my language, but drink the Kool-Aid has very troubling origins, but I feel like it, it works.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:38:21] It's an effective phrase, for sure.

Bret Keisling: [00:38:23] So I just wanted to make those two points of you're kicking the tires on ESOPs virtual may be a very good way to go. And secondarily, if you're already participating, just send more staff virtually. It'll make your team stronger.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:38:36] I agree. A hundred percent. And there's a way in which the flexibility of the virtual world, that's why we were saying at the very beginning that it looks like to a certain extent virtual stuff is just here to stay. Whether it's with the NCEO, other places, we have the technology, we have to the extent possible the capacity, we might as well provide these opportunities.

And like you mentioned, with the costs, one of the things that we love to do, one of the things I love most about the NCEO, is that we really do strive to be accessible and to be inclusive wherever possible. So, you're right. We try to make things are affordable. If you're going to be in person, you're absolutely right, it's still great to have a team member to attend virtually. Also, there's the flexibility of virtual is fantastic. Some of our speakers are going to be exclusively virtual. I have somebody who really wants to go, but they're speaking at a different event locally like the day before. So, they can't go in person, but they love the virtual content. They love that they can digest it a little bit on their own terms. They love that there's still opportunities for them to interact and interface with people online. That they can design their curriculum in a very thoughtful way, all the same. And it's a different experience, but it's one that still carries a lot of value for the people who attend that way.

So, I absolutely a hundred percent agree, attend virtually if that's going to be the way that's what you're doing best or for your budget or whatever it might be. For whatever reason. And then speaking, one more thing is budget. We do have a Friends of the Fall Forum program. So, as you are registering, or if you just care to donate, even if you're not registering, you can donate to the Friends of the Fall Forum program.

It is something we've started like a scholarship almost for those who would like to attend, but might not have the funding to do so, it enables us to bring more people into the fold who otherwise would not have the opportunity to do so.

So, if you're feeling generous while registering, we encourage you to throw a little bit that way. It's greatly appreciated, and it goes to growing and strengthening the ESOP community.

Bret Keisling: [00:40:34] I'm glad that you mentioned the Friends of the Fall Forum. I think that's very important. And when I do my registration, I want to take a look at that and see if I can help a little bit. And the reason I said that not to be gratuitously, but I encourage people to donate to the organization. So, I tried to do it myself. So, I'm not just some guy who's saying blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, but not doing it.

Can we talk for just a moment in the past, I've been aware that companies have the opportunity to sponsor things like forums and conferences.

Sponsorship opportunities available?

Tim Garbinsky: [00:41:04] There are. There's always sponsorship opportunities available. There's -- sponsorships take on a variety of different forms, so you can sponsor different specific things. We already have quite a few of the sponsors lined up, I'm sure. So, for instance, the keynote is sponsored. Different events onsite are sponsored, et cetera, et cetera. But there's always opportunities and more things that can possibly be sponsored.

So, there is, as I directed you before, that website There is a link at the top of there. If you just wanted to type it in, it would just be[.php] and you can find more about the sponsorship opportunities. There's a sponsor brochure, which our team, I believe in this case it would be Jordan and Megan, the events team, have beautifully taken the time of laying out and being expansive on so that people can have as many of their questions answered upfront.

And then of course, if anyone is interested, we would love to hear from them. So, go to As we already touched on before, no more speaking slots. However, always happy to have people register, or if you're interested in sponsoring, you can find it all there.

Bret Keisling: [00:42:15] And Tim, our listeners if they go to our podcast website and in the show notes, we're going to have links that you have shared. My team actually does a great job with links on everything. So, we'll have the sponsorship links, we'll have the event links and that sort of thing.

And Tim, let me make an offer because I go through my life, and I am horrible with deadlines. And in terms of speaker proposals, my problem is I talk about so much in employee ownership that I be hard pressed to narrow down a topic. What would I talk about? So let me tell you, here is my daydream for your conference or any other conference that I'm at a conference and somebody, I hope it's not bad, but a speaker maybe gets an upset stomach and has to bail, not a speaker, a moderator. So, here's my daydream, Tim. I'm somewhere on a moderator has to bail because maybe there's a little tummy ache or that kind of thing. And I'm a generalist and suddenly it's like, Bret, would you moderate this panel on X? I am a podcast host, so I'm manifesting my desire, Tim, that if you find yourself in a hole and I'm onsite or even virtually I am here, I would love to moderate one of your panels.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:43:23] You were first on the list and if I find myself in a session with you, I'm just going to call on you to make sure that you get heard. I think it's always interesting to hear what you have to say. And especially since you're someone who's been, collecting A-ha Moments, but beyond that, just taking great, beautiful, magnanimous, expansive stock of the EO community. I think there's just a lot to share there, no matter what situation you find yourself in. So, I hope that even if that perfect opportunity doesn't arise, that if there is a call for feedback, questions, comments, that you're not shy in any of the sessions that you attend.

Bret Keisling: [00:43:54] That is so much better than me trying to figure out how to put something in someone's food so they get a tummy ache. [Laughter.] This is such a more peaceful look!

Tim, I want to thank you for all of your time. Not just coming on the podcast, that means a lot to me personally, but the NCEO is absolutely one of the leaders. We all rely on them. And as the communications director, I want to thank you for what you do for all of your colleagues. And I'm grateful that you've had an A-ha Moment. My blessing very sincerely is that I get to talk to many folks like yourself who are just doing great things that I believe in. So, thank you very much for sharing about the Forum and everything else we've talked about today.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:44:39] Thank you, Bret. It's honestly always a pleasure to talk to you. I remember you made a joke. I won't share, but it was in Denver one year and it's stuck with me, and I'll always remember you because of it. I'll share it with you once we go offline here, but I've always had a fondness for you. So anytime I get to chat with you. And that's even before the fact that you're such a fantastic supporter of not only the NCEO, but of employee ownership, which is of course the ultimate goal here is to increase, grow support, and make employee ownership thrive. So, I, my thanks goes double to you.

Bret Keisling: [00:45:11] I appreciate it. And I don't exactly remember the anecdote that you're referring to, but I will take note that you didn't say it happened in Minneapolis or Atlanta. I'm just going to run with that. Tim, give my thanks and regards to everybody at NCEO and my appreciation and one little tidbit. You are the only person in employee ownership at one of the conferences. I actually met your mom. So please give my regards to your mother. It's just really cool meeting all kinds of people, but she's the first EO mom that I've met. So please give her my regards.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:45:45] I'll be sure to do, Bret.

Bret Keisling: [00:45:47] All right, Tim. I enjoyed it. Thank you very much. And we will talk soon.

Tim Garbinsky: [00:45:50] All right. Thank you so much, Bret.


Bitsy McCann: [00:45:53] 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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