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163: Tim Garbinsky and NCEO's VIRTUAL Fall Forum

The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) logo, The Fall ESOP Forum Logo, and then the coupon code EOPod25 (case sensitive).

Bret Keisling is joined again by the National Center for Employee Ownership's Tim Garbinsky, who provides an update on the NCEO's Fall ESOP Forum’s pivot to virtual only, including news about the keynote speaker, an EO craft beer tasting, some of the 40 amazing sessions, and an incredible series of events in the week before the Forum.


Episode 163 Transcript

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

[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: 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. In Episode 160 of our primary EO/ESOP Podcast, I was very grateful to be joined by Tim Garbinsky, who is the communications manager for the National Center for Employee Ownership [NCEO].

And I'm very pleased to welcome Tim back again. Tim, thanks for joining me again.

[00:00:39] Tim Garbinsky: My pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me, Bret.

[00:00:42] Bret Keisling: So, the topic of Episode 160 was the NCEO Fall ESOP Forum, which is to be held September 22nd to the 24th and, quick aside, podcast listeners can get a $25 discount if they use the discount code E O P capital EOP, small od, 25 -- that's EOPod25 -- when they register. But that's a little bit of my housekeeping. Tim, how are you doing?

Coupon code for ESOP Podcast Listeners: EOPod25 (case-sensitive)

[00:01:08] Tim Garbinsky: You know, every day is an adventure, but generally doing very good. We're super-duper excited about this event. As some of you may know by now, the event will now be purely virtual, in order to protect our attendees. It was the only safe route in holding this meeting. And while we will, of course, miss seeing all of our friends in person the feeling on staff is still one of overwhelming excitement. Because we love putting on these events. We love learning the lessons with the people. We love reconvening with the community. So, you know, all things considered still super excited.

[00:01:43] Bret Keisling: Tim, you should be super excited. I hope the podcast listeners know that the event is now virtual because when I heard the news a couple of weeks ago, I shared about it on a Mini-cast. And for the reasons you just talked about, I was a little bit bummed out when I heard the news, but within a day or two, I applauded the fact that it was online and virtual only.

Can I just take a moment and share with you why I applaud?

[00:02:10] Tim Garbinsky: Please, please, please.

[00:02:12] Bret Keisling: I saw the news that it was going virtual on a Friday, a couple of weeks ago as we're recording this, about three weeks from when listeners are going to hear this. The day before I was hanging out with a friend of mine, she's a server at one of the restaurants I go to for breakfast all the time. We happened to be grabbing a bite to eat for dinner, so she wasn't at work. And we were talking, she's 28 years old, she has two kids, good friend, I think the world of her. She's not vaccinated. And I live in a very conservative political county. I'm vaccinated. I've tried to follow all the rules. I don't get into whether people are vaccinated or not. They can make their own decision. I will preach, Tim, the strongest and I feel very strongly, follow the darn signs on a business and if it says you got to be masked, if you've got to stay, whatever, follow that. Or you're anti employee. That's, that's my vibe.

But anyway, I was talking to this friend, and I said, here's my concern. I'm going to go to California and I'm going to be on the road four or five weeks. And I'm fully vaccinated. I'll follow all the rules. If I'm told to mask somewhere. I will, if I was told to quarantine in Pennsylvania when I got back, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But as of now, there's no expectation of the quarantine.

I said, the next morning, I'm going to come when I'm back in Harrisburg and I'm going to come to your restaurant and you're going to take care of me and maybe even give me a hug because we're friends. I'm vaccinated. I'm not sick. But what we think now, and it makes sense to me, is that I'm going to be spreading all kinds of stuff that I picked up along the way.

So, it's not the NCEO's job to keep me safe from myself and it's not the NCEO's job to keep me from infecting other people. But the reality is I likely would have done so, and then felt really guilty about it. And now, with it being virtually only, I think the NCEO has put me in the place of doing the right thing.

Does that make sense?

[00:04:19] Tim Garbinsky: That does, that does, and that's heartening to hear. Of course, all of us on staff, we wish we could be in person. It would be a dream to be reunited with the community after so long and just reconvene in the way that we used to and share those moments. But the writing was on the wall. Writing continues to be on the wall and it's like you said, our first responsibility is not just the education, but the safety and wellbeing of our attendees, registrants, members, staff, hotel staff, everybody involved, every single stakeholder. And it became clear a few weeks ago that there was no way to safely hold this meeting.

So, that story, I think, in my mind, it's actually heartening. It's disappointing, though, we're not in person. I think you're absolutely right, what this does is it makes it so that all of our would-have-been in person attendees can continue to keep their communities safe, continue to keep themselves safe.

So, I really do appreciate that story.

[00:05:18] Bret Keisling: Well, I love that. And the reality is, the NCEO and the other organizations will gather together gratefully when it is safe for us to do so. Tim, on Episode 160, you also said, since I was going to be out there, that you would buy me a drink. This has nothing to do with you trying to get out of buying me a drink or, you know, sitting down with me for a little bit? [Laughter.] Because seems a little extreme. That's all I'm saying!

[00:05:50] Tim Garbinsky: [Laughter.] This isn't an elaborate ploy to get out of it, I assure you. I still, I'll buy you the soda of your choice as soon as I see you next, I promise.

[00:06:00] Bret Keisling: Well, first of all, I look forward to it and I'm kind of laughing because you know at convention centers a Diet Coke is probably like $12.95, I'd get out of it myself!

So, Tim, let me now pivot. We've gotten the disappointment out and we are bummed, and we are optimistic and folks, if you're listening, Tim and I are both sincere, we will all be together before long.

But meanwhile, let's pivot because here's what I know about the NCEO. You have led the way on online gatherings. You have helped show many other organizations, in employee ownership and outside of it, how to have online gatherings.

What hasn't changed with the move to virtual only is a great lineup. A great couple of days of programming. And we focused on the gathering together, the reality is the second thing that you mentioned is what's important. It's the education. It's the interactions. It's all of the value we get out, that's not going to change a bit.

[00:06:58] Tim Garbinsky: Absolutely. If I can toot our own horn just a little bit, I feel that we're pretty darn good at the online meetings space. I won't dwell on any of the what-could-have-beens because what we have is really spectacular still. Like you said, we were one of the first, if not the first, organization in this space to have to hold a big meeting online, seeing as shutdown started in March 2020 and our first conference that this happened with was April 2020. We were able to pivot there real quickly, and then we also have over a decade's worth of online education experience with our webinars.

That's the type of thing that our meeting planners, big shout out to them, they take great pride in being able to provide cost-effective, but state-of-the-art and engaging fresh online educational experiences. So, I'm super proud to be able to work with them. Enormous shout out to Jordan Boone, who is our events director, on taking this Forum and creating a fantastic online event. And you're right, it's honestly, it's about the education and all of the education that people may have been expecting in person is still available to them and perhaps at an increased convenience. I wasn't planning on mentioning this, but I will mention that I've suffered a foot injury. I was planning on being in person, but this makes my life a great deal easier knowing that I can attend, I can lead sessions, and I can do so without aggravating, this injury I've sustained. I'm grateful for it.

But I'm mostly looking forward to every time we do that, these events, whether it's the Fall Forum as we're talking about today, or whether it's the conference. Our meetings team is such that they like to be constantly innovating. So, every time it doesn't feel like the last time, it feels like something new, even from an internal standpoint.

One of my favorite additions this year is something that we've called the Pre-forum Exchange, which is everyone who's registered we will be opening up the platform a week before the actual Forum. And on the platform, we'll have a bunch of both -- I believe some of them will be live, but also recorded conversations -- about various topics, whether it's an interview with a CEO about sort of leading through the crisis. There'll be a conversation with NCEO founder, Corey Rosen, and then long time ESOP and employee ownership advocate Tony Matthews and they will be talking about the long, storied history of not just the NCEO, but employee ownership over the last 40 years and what we can look forward to in the future. Where they would like to see it go, trends they've noticed. There'll be a conversation that my colleague Dallan Guzinski will be leading about Employee Ownership Month. You know, the Forum falls right before Employee Ownership Month, so it'll be about different things that companies can do, different strategies, different tactics, and different examples they can follow heading into Employee Ownership Month, and then there will also be a networking component afterwards.

There's a bunch of these things that are happening in the week before, which is essentially, it's an insane amount of value that adds. It's basically like its own separate Forum before the Forum. You get so much content just by registering that you can tap into at any time. I'm super excited about it.

And a lot of those topics for me are really engaging. I love the sort of looking back/looking forward. I love hearing what the companies do during EO month. For me, it's just so much fun to be a part of and to learn along with everybody.

So, I'm excited for the other ways in which this will sort of innovate along the way. But that's one of the things I'm looking forward to most is that basically whole extra week of content that people are getting with their registration.

[00:10:30] Bret Keisling: Tim, let me just jump in really quick and say, I love that. That's like a leadership summit that people can tune in anytime they'd like during the week prior. And that's cool.

I'm especially looking forward to Corey Rosen and Tony Matthews. One of my favorite episodes, and I do support everybody but Michael Keeling, when he was head of The ESOP Association, came on and did an episode where he didn't just talk about TEA, but he talked about the history of employee ownership. And two things, first of all, and I'm talking to the folks who are advocates who want to grow employee ownership, first of all know where we came from. But what I find so important in my work in talking to the folks who can talk about the last 30 and 40 years is what's been tried, what's been done, and what do these folks think are important trends? Because these are the people, Corey and Tony in this case, who have been identifying trends for a very long time. I love that content.

[00:11:36] Tim Garbinsky: Oh, absolutely. Those two are some of the sort of encyclopedic founders of this community and where it's gotten to in this stage. And to be able to, like you said, it's a topic that isn't focused on -- not because there isn't interest -- but because so much of the business world is in the here and now. You have to deal with what's ahead of you. You have to be looking at what's coming up. And you have to be dealing with things in a very sort of tangible grounded, numbers, facts, figures way. And this will do that, of course, this will talk about the actual sort of numbers, facts, and figures from the long history of employee ownership and where we hope they go. And also, it gives us an opportunity to take a sort of bird's-eye view of the path that employee ownership has thus far sort of trod in this business world and where it could potentially go learning lessons along the way. We might be able to identify certain things in this conversation that we haven't been able to before, because people aren't often looking at it at this like 40-to-50-year macro level.

So, I'm super excited about that. I'm excited about all of it. You're going to get a lot out of me from here! I'm excited about everything! I'm super pumped about, for example, our keynote, just to pivot a little bit to the actual conference, to the actual Forum. I'm super-duper excited to talk about our keynoter for the Forum is Haydee Caldero. She is the COO of Crêpes à Latte and so they're like an events catering management experiential company, right. So, for example, they are providing, as sponsored by BMO Harris Bank, providing the welcome boxes. That's one of the things they do, but they also do onsite food and experiential-based events.

And as you can imagine, that's been a hard thing to do in the past year and a half. This year is Forum theme is evolution, and I can think of few companies that have evolved as gracefully and as quickly and as successfully as they have, and I've talked with quite a few times and every time it's such an electrifying conversation. I'm super excited for Forum registrants to be able to watch that.

I want to make sure I get the exact date and time right, because I know there's been some shifting, as far as when the times of different things are, but that will be on Friday the 24th at noon Eastern. So, I'm again, couldn't be more excited about that.

[00:13:54] Bret Keisling: As the times shift a little bit, and as we're recording this, we're still five weeks away. So, there are things that are going to change. I'm assuming the infrastructure from the National Conference this spring in terms of the apps and whatnot are going to be the same.

So, I just want the listeners to know, and this is a user experience because I attended in spring, you sign up on the app. The schedules are there. It's easy to follow what's coming up that day, et cetera, et cetera. So, as they're hearing this, you don't necessarily have all the details locked in, but you'll be able to find everybody, you're able to schedule it, get reminders, sign up, and by the way, some of them, as I recall, you have to sign up for in advance or they will be filled up.

So, it's okay that the times are shifting because your technology that goes with the conferences is so thorough once we get to the conference time.

[00:14:44] Tim Garbinsky: Absolutely. And actually, I think by now all of it's settled, it's just not settled in my brain. [Laughter.] Most settled in my brain, to be fair. So that's, you know, it's in good company, but...

[00:14:53] Bret Keisling: Okay, Regardless of Tim's momentarily confused state, for the listeners, it's all covered in the app. And Tim, you also will be able to check the app to keep the schedule in track. And I'm a lot like you, so you and I will both benefit from the technology.

[00:15:08] Tim Garbinsky: I benefit enormously from the app. I think having that functionality where I can just click on something, add it to my schedule, and then I can just go back. I don't have to hunt for the sessions that I want to find. I just know that I want them, I put them there and then I get notified. I show up. It's there. It's for people like me, until I can get my act together -- lifesaver, absolute lifesaver.

[00:15:31] Bret Keisling: So, you started to tell us, and I just wanted to talk about the app for a moment, what happens after the keynote? What are you excited about for the conference?

[00:15:38] Tim Garbinsky: Oh, man. What else am I excited about? There's another thing that we're doing. I mean, again, I just can't get over how much has been packed into this! There's so much people can learn at this event. Every time I revisit the website, which good opportunity for me to highlight it there -- it's -- I'm sort of blown away by how much more is even on there.

Another thing we're doing, and for what it's worth these do cost a little bit extra, there's some Pre-forum Workshops. So, they're not the Exchange the week before, these are actual sessions that are a few hours long and that are supposed to leave people with actual, tangible things to do that we'll ask the attendees to dive in and do work in the workshops.

They're being put on by a variety of people. We have Chartwell that's doing one. We have Great Game of Business, which is doing a strategic planning accelerator. We have one on "Employee Ownership in Times of Uncertainty" and these are all on the 22nd.

These are opportunities for people who want to dive in and do a little bit more. Who want to take a little bit extra time to really dig in on a certain topic with experts in the room. Space is super limited for those things, but in my mind, that's one of the coolest things that are happening is these workshops.

And then also, you know me, and as anyone who does know me or doesn't, you're listening to me, you can tell I'm a fairly gregarious guy. There's still the opportunities also to sort of kick back a little bit. And one of the cool things that we're doing, there's this, it's an employee-owned craft beer networking tasting. That will be for registrants only, of course, and it requires sign-up, so it's going to be very limited, but it's on September 15th at 2:00 PM Pacific, 5:00 PM Eastern. And if you sign up, you'll receive a six pack of craft brews from employee-owned breweries, and we'll do a little tasting. There'll be a little networking component. Super pumped about that. I'm super excited about that. Anytime we get to kick back, pop open a cold one. It's fun for me.

[00:17:36] Bret Keisling: Tim, here's what I find really cool. The NCEO has taken a three day Fall Forum, Fall ESOP Forum, and you're making it a week! Like, there's a week-long of activities, whether it's free stuff, whether it's the beer tasting ahead of time, whether it's the workshops that you're paying extra, this is turning into a great employee ownership week.

[00:17:58] Tim Garbinsky: It really is. I'm honestly, like I'm astonished by how much we've packed in there. And I'm, like I said, that Pre-forum Exchange is such a cool idea to me, the different sessions that are going to be a part of it are so fun. And then tacked on top of it, that's not even the main event! The amount of sessions that are actually at the main Forum, there's more than 40 sessions, fantastic topics. I think we're relatively known in the community for having a good highlight on communications and culture stuff. And of course, that's going to be abounding. There's going to be every topic you can think of.

But I was actually particularly struck as I went through the agenda this year, how many good sessions there are on boards of directors. Whether it's best practices, whether it's how to secure outside directors, ideal board makeup, et cetera, et cetera. There's a lot of good topics on boards and governance this year. And so I'm excited about that. I think that's a topic that I don't want to say is underappreciated, but that I think could always do with a little more attention. So I'm excited that there's going to be that sort of focus there.

[00:19:02] Bret Keisling: Tim, let me just circle back really, really quick and make a point regarding the session that Corey Rosen and Tony Matthews are going to have about the 40 years. And as an ESOP trustee from 2012 to 2019, and now doing the podcast for the last couple of years absent the trustee role, I see a lot of conversations coming up and we talked about the two of them talking about trends as part of their presentation. I have seen a lot of conversations in the last year that I've been having about the board of directors. It has come up a lot. It's come up as the importance. So my point is, the fact that there are so many sessions at the Fall Forum about board of directors and all that it means and why it's important to employee ownership is just one example of how the NCEO has taken current trends and important conversations and is bringing into them concrete practices through those sessions.

So this is, I hate to be all serious, but this is an important part of it expanding the conversations because board of directors are critically important. As a former trustee, independent directors are critically important and there are all kinds of things in terms of what should the board do. And a lot of companies new to employee ownership, as you know, never really had truly functioning boards. So there's that aspect of just learning what a board does and how it does it.

So, I commend the NCEO. This is really important topics and it is currently one of the biggest topics going on in EO.

[00:20:31] Tim Garbinsky: Absolutely. Absolutely. Like I said, it's a topic that it's not that it's under appreciated or under explored, but it's like you said, it's a big, important topic. And it's one that I think deserves more focus. So I'm excited to see that's going to be playing such a big role at the Forum, and I'm excited to attend a few of those sessions myself.

[00:20:48] Bret Keisling: So we've got the beer tasting. We've got the board of directors. We've got the keynotes. We've got undoubtedly, I don't know if we mentioned it, but a swag bag for everybody who registers.

[00:20:57] Tim Garbinsky: While supplies last, that's right. I mentioned it in reference to the keynote, if only because it's prepared by our keynoter Crêpes à Latte sponsored by BMO Harris Bank, there is a welcome box. But it is only while supplies last and. I'm not even going to pretend I know how many supplies do, in fact, last. But I will say that if you have not yet registered by the time you hear this and you want to grab a box, should probably hop on that.

I will also say that the sooner is always better. I'm not sure if this will apply for when this actually airs, but in the event that it does, the early bird registration has been extended till the end of the month [of August]. So if you register before the end of the month, it will be a hundred dollars off.

I'm not going to go ahead and quote all the rest of the prices, but between a hundred dollars off and the $25 off coupon code that you get for being a podcast listener, it's a pretty darn good deal! Recommend you hop on it as soon as you can.

[00:21:52] Bret Keisling: We did talk and we won't go into the numbers, but this is the opportunity for companies who have sent a couple of employee owners to send a few more there's great pricing for additional seats from the same company. There is great pricing for members versus non-members. I said on the last time folks, I don't have time to do all of the reasons why you should belong to the NCEO and The ESOP Association and EOX, you know, all of these places. But the values of membership to the NCEO is phenomenal and it will reduce your costs for the Forum as well.

[00:22:26] Tim Garbinsky: Absolutely. On that note, I'd also like to point out something that Chartwell has sponsored this year, which is something called the Friends of the Fall Forum. It's sort of a two-sided program we have going where, when somebody is registering, you have the opportunity to donate money as much as you feel comfortable to make it easier for those who otherwise wouldn't have access to the Forum or wouldn't be able to afford going, to then access those funds. So as you're registering, if that's something that interests you by all means, please do support it. We deeply appreciate it.

Beyond that, if you're somebody for whom those funds would be very helpful to let us know again, you can find information on that on the website There's a community tab, which has all of those fun things and has including that the Friends of the Fall Forum program.

And then one last thing I want to mention, and I promise this is actually the last thing, it's the Achievement Award. It's a way for us to highlight the companies that really have exemplified this year's theme of evolution. It's a pretty easy award to enter. It can be either written narrative that's accompanied by pictures or audio clips, or it can be a one to three minute video there's .Information about that also on the website, but we really look forward to seeing more of those entries.

We've gotten a few and they look really fantastic, but the more is always merrier. Again, that is also supported by Chartwell. So we're grateful to them for their support. But don't hesitate. We're very excited to get some submissions for that. So again, information for that can be found on the website

[00:23:57] Bret Keisling: We're going to include the various links in our show notes as we always do. So, if they click on the show notes with this podcast, we'll have all the links there as well.

The Achievement Award is just so great and it's going to give everybody in the community an opportunity to celebrate excellence. And excellence is defined in so many ways, not just business operations, but I'm sure the culture and the vibe of employee ownership is very important in the awards as well.

You have packed another great Forum together and from start to finish. And the other thing that I like, if you're registered you'll have access to much of the content, even after the Forum is done. I don't know if it's even still up, but the Spring Conference, boy, I was referring to that website and just checking out various things and checking out the content for a good six, eight weeks afterwards.

So, there's great value. It's going to be a great experience. Let me get a little bit preachy at my grumpy friends in employee ownership. Because I could mention a couple of their names where people I know and love in real life were kind of griping during the spring conference when there was a little technological blitz or something. Folks, chill out. We're doing joyful work and employee ownership. There may well be a glitch or two, deal with it. And this isn't the NCEO saying it. This is, oh my goodness, in the 30 seconds, it took NCEO to fix the glitch we listened to an ESOP practitioner, griping about the glitch. Everybody just relax. It's all going to work out.

You are providing, you have always provided, but a very special platform not just to educate, not just to grow the EO sandbox, but for everybody to come together. And if we're coming together virtually, at least we're coming together.

[00:25:44] Tim Garbinsky: Hear, hear! Well, on that note, I couldn't say it better myself, so I'll leave it there. We're excited to come together virtually. We're excited to be a part of the sort of essential ESOP education that happens in this community and we're excited to welcome everyone back online. This last conference in April, again, it wasn't in person, but I still carved out time to hop on the sort of video functionality, just to chat with friends who I hadn't seen in awhile and not even about employee ownership stuff. Just to ask how their families are doing. See how they've been. And I look forward to doing that, too. You know, this community is really that -- it's community.

I'm grateful for that. I'm eager to be back with it. And I appreciate your time today, Bret.

[00:26:25] Bret Keisling: And the best news is we can all learn together at the NCEO Fall ESOP Forum, September 22nd through the 24th, virtual only.

[00:26:35] Tim Garbinsky: Perfect. Thank you so much, Bret. Yep. That's what a place to be. I look forward to welcoming everyone back there.

[00:26:41] Bret Keisling: Tim, thank you for all of your time. And I have no doubt. We will talk again soon, my friend.

[00:26:45] Tim Garbinsky: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Bret.

[00:26:48] Bret Keisling: With that we will wrap things up. Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.


[00:26:55] Bitsy McCann: 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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