39: Employee Ownership Month


Employee Ownership Month is in October, and so it is time to start planning! Of course we need to support our company's ownership culture all year long, but Employee Ownership Month - #EOMESOP18 - is the perfect time for heightened awareness of your ESOP, as well as chance to spread to word to your community and your local officials. In this episode we discuss some of the creative ways to celebrate employee ownership month, with some great examples from ESOP companies we know.


The ESOP Association's ESOP Press Kit is available to members here. The remainder of the resources mentioned in the podcast are linked directly in the transcript below.


Listen to this episode on Soundcloud. Or subscribe on Google Play or iTunes/Apple Podcasts.

The ESOP Podcast is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND Creative Commons License.


Episode 39 Transcript

Announcer: 00:12 Welcome to The ESOP Podcast, brought to you by Capital Trustees, keeping you up to date on all things ESOP.


Bret Keisling: 00:22 Hi everyone. Welcome to this podcast. This is Bret Keisling, Managing Director of Capital Trustees, and I'm with...


Brian Keisling: 00:28 ...Brian Keisling, Client Engagement Officer of Capital Trustees.

Bret Keisling: 00:32 Brian or episode today is going to be devoted to October being Employee Ownership Month. Is that correct?


Brian Keisling: 00:37 Yes it is. It's only August now, but we figured if we talk about October now we can give everyone plenty of heads-up to mull it over through September.


Bret Keisling: 00:46 Because to participate fully, you'll want to do some planning and make arrangements in advance.


Brian Keisling: 00:50 Absolutely.


Bret Keisling: 00:51 Before we get to that though, Brian, I want to do a major thank you to the folks who listen to The ESOP Podcast. We started this in September of 2017. We're coming up on a full year, obviously. We've done about 40 episodes including or a summer school repeats and that sort of thing, but this week, the week of August 18th, we had 300 listens to the podcast and I'm just ecstatic that that many people took the time to listen to all of our various podcasts this week.


Brian Keisling: 01:20 We really appreciate it. A lot of work goes into the podcast and it seems like people are getting something out of it and that makes us feel good.


Bret Keisling: 01:26 So, thank you to those of you who are listening and by all means check out past episodes and we've got a full schedule of episodes coming up so it's going to be a great year.


Brian Keisling: 01:37 Definitely. So on today's episode, as you mentioned, we are going to talk about employee ownership month, which takes place in October. Now, one of the things that we're going to be referencing in this episode, there's going to be a link to it in the episode description, The ESOP Association provides a press and event planning kit for employee ownership month and that's a great resource for you to look at why employee ownership month is important and also what you can do during employee ownership month. So one of the things that we'll be looking at during this episode comes from there. That's part of our inspiration for the episode.


Bret Keisling: 02:12 And we want to congratulate The ESOP Association for their media and press kit. It's been very well received. They've been doing it a number of years now. And NCEO the other big organization also does an awful lot to promote employee ownership month as well. So although we're referencing "the media kit" specifically in this case, there are a lot of resources available. So Brian, let's start with what's the purpose of employee ownership month?


Brian Keisling: 02:36 Well, employee ownership month basically as two purposes. It allows us to celebrate ESOPs and it also allows us to educate about ESOPs.


Bret Keisling: 02:44 So companies are encouraged - employee-owned companies are encouraged - to participate through a great variety of activities or events?


Brian Keisling: 02:51 Yeah, activities and events that basically are focused on internally within the company. And also in the community that the company exists within. So let's start with how an ESOP company can approach employee ownership month within the company itself because that's something that a lot of these companies are really already doing on a year-round basis. So as I said before, we've got educate and we've got celebrate. On the educational side, Employee Ownership Month is a really good chance for companies to be able to schedule formal programming for employees to learn more about their ESOP. A lot of employee owners might know that they're a part of an ESOP, but especially if it's a newer ESOP, for example, they might not necessarily know all of the finer details about what that means. So Employee Ownership Month is a great way to provide some structure to kind of set the tone for the rest of the year on how employees can be active participants in their ESOP.


Bret Keisling: 03:48 And Brian, in an ideal world in ESOP world October, just as a heightened month, we actually like to see our clients where culture is key to their operations to be doing this throughout the year, but to just kind of tie it together in October a little stronger perhaps.


Brian Keisling: 04:05 Absolutely. As our listeners know, Capital Trustees is huge on ESOP culture. We think that it's just as important as any other aspect of an ESOP. And so this really is a great way, like you said, to sort of set the tone for the other 11 months of the year. So one great way to educate employee owners is by playing educational games with your ESOP.


Bret Keisling: 04:28 And Brian, one of the great examples of this was presented at the New Jersey/New York conference last spring. And Ruthanne Bulman, who's with McFarland Johnson, created a game called ESOPoly. And, as you would expect, it is a Monopoly game board that is converted to ESOP education, and that's just a wonderful way that people can relate to, that educates about ESOPs.


Brian Keisling: 04:51 Totally. And you know, there's other ways that you can play these educational games. You could do "Jeopardy" or some sort of trivia game. Someone creative in that vein could probably come up with ESOP "Wheel of Fortune." There's a bunch of different ways that you can have a fun twist on ESOP education, but you also could have more formal programs where you have presentations. You could invite guest speakers, ways to have your employee owners actively thinking about ESOPs, not having it just be something that's sort of in the background for them.


Bret Keisling: 05:21 And Brian, as we've said, ideally, employee owned companies are focused on culture year-round and it's just kind of heightened in October. Some of the ideas that we're talking about now are the exact same kind of things a company might use at their participant meetings. You know, when they're handing out statements, for those companies that do that, you want to present kind of dry material in an entertaining and exciting way, so to that end some companies will have, you know, not for gambling but "guess the share price." And in one of our previous ESOP Podcast episodes [Episode 31], George Raftopoulos and I did a presentation that was recorded NCEO in Atlanta and the presentation there was a golf-themed presentation on fun with numbers. So there's a lot of interesting, exciting ways that you can not just present the information to the participants but hopefully leave them enthusiastic and encouraged.


Brian Keisling: 06:11 Absolutely. And it's also good to have participants feel like they are being appreciated as part of this. Some things that we've seen in the past include inviting retired former employee owners to come back and talk about what life is like after they've left the company and how the ESOP has benefited them. And it's also we've seen award ceremonies where people who become vested get recognized. We've also talked in previous episodes about how Capital Trustees client Global Tax Management has bobbleheads that they make of each employee owner when they become vested. So, fun ways to recognize the people who have stayed with the company and to further educate people, whether they've been around for a while or if they're brand new to ESOP


Bret Keisling: 06:57 And there are other things that we've seen, Brian, that again don't necessarily take place in October but could, depending on how you structure it. One of our clients, Beck Packaging in Pennsylvania, has a participant event at a local baseball stadium, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, a double-A team. That's a lot of fun and we've been fortunate enough to be invited the last four or five years and it's a great way to just bring the participants together and build that camaraderie and culture.


Brian Keisling: 07:23 Absolutely. It's a great month to reward participants for being part of this great thing.


Bret Keisling: 07:30 One other thing, Brian, that I had noticed just staying with the baseball theme for a moment, maybe we've seen it - and I'm not sure if it was by design or coincidence - but in the last month or so in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where our office is located, we also have a double-A team, the Harrisburg Senators and both each HB McClure , which is a prominent employee owned company here that's one of our clients and Restek Corporation, which is a major employee owned company that Mike Shuey who is the president of our chapter and a former podcast guest, both of their companies happened to be at the Senators game at the exact same time and the fact that employee ownership was being celebrated by two different companies, so maybe reach out to other employee owned companies in your area and see if you can have a combined outing to make it even more fun.


Brian Keisling: 08:15 Yeah, totally. Then, and that goes back to what we're talking about, about there being celebrate AND educate. It doesn't all have to be educational. There could be a lot of fun. You can do those community events. You can also celebrate within your company itself. It's October, have a Halloween party. Plan something for the employee owners that lets them enjoy coming into work in a different way than they usually do.


Bret Keisling: 08:36 That makes great sense. Brian. We're not limited to just companies doing things internally. The ESOP Association talks about doing things out in the community, don't they?


Brian Keisling: 08:45 Yeah. They encourage a lot of community activities which makes sense. You know, an employee owned company is a member of its community at large and it should have a in that community. One thing that The ESOP Association recommends a company does is some sort of public service or charity that relates to the field that that company is in, so some examples that they've given are if you are an engineering company, maybe have some sort of STEM-related program that kids in the community can attend where they can learn something and have fun and the community sees that your company is active and invested in these kids. Other ideas included, if a company is related to the food service industry, have a food drive or work for the soup kitchen, something that connects to what you're doing every day in your company and brings a little more attention to you in the community,


Bret Keisling: 09:34 So it's a combination of doing good things in the community and also having benefits to the participants and frankly you're not doing it for positive publicity, but that never hurts.


Brian Keisling: 09:45 No, not at all. And it's a great way to have the community feel like you are participating with them and they learn more about what an ESOP is as well. You know, ESOPs have a unique business structure and it's not unreasonable for us to expect that if you pick a member of the community at random, they might not be able to tell you what employee stock ownership is. So not only are they able to be active with you as a company, they're also able to learn more about what it is that makes you extra special.


Bret Keisling: 10:13 Brian, I liked the idea of doing things that are related to company pursuits, but that's not necessary, correct?


Brian Keisling: 10:22 Correct. Absolutely not.


Bret Keisling: 10:23 Our friends at Hoffman and Hoffman, which is a wonderful employee owned company in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 2017, the company collectively did a fundraiser and they sponsored a third grade inner city elementary school class to go to the beach and these were many students that had never been to the beach before, couldn't afford to go to the beach and the Hoffman and Hoffman community, the employee owners gathered together and wanting to do something positive for that school simply because the school was in their area. You know, it's the city where they're based, so it doesn't have to be tied in any way to what the company does for a living. The important thing is, and I think that you're right, we believe when employee owned companies do good out in the community, it's just the employee owners helping their own area.


Brian Keisling: 11:18 You're absolutely right. The events that a company does don't have to directly relate to what it is you do as a company. I remember back when I was in high school, every year the local fire department would do a barbecue chicken sale and that doesn't have anything inherent to do with firefighters, but every year everyone in the community said, all right, it's that time of year the barbecue chicken is happening and it became a staple really, and it helps the community feel attached to this company that's there anyway. You are present in the community and it's good to have them feel like you're an active part of it. So activities and events could have anything - you can do a chili cookoff. You could have some sort of community based competition, some sort of fundraiser. You could do a 5K or a fun run, you know, any sort of activity that brings people together and has them have a good time, whether it's with food or music or some sort of athletic event. Something that gets people active and involved. It's going to be memorable and if it becomes an annual thing even better, something that they can look forward to throughout the year. And then suddenly October is Employee Ownership Month and everyone's been waiting for it all year


Bret Keisling: 12:31 And meanwhile I, as you know, can be a competitive person and like to have fun and do good deeds. To me, if I worked for an employee owned company, I'd seek out a different employee owned company in my region, perhaps, and do some sort of challenge. Who can raise the most money for the food bank? Who can turn out the most volunteers for some special project? And kind of do a challenge match among the ESOP companies. And again, cross-pollinate the positive cultural aspects.


Brian Keisling: 13:05 Absolutely. There's, there's a camaraderie that's kind of inherent with ESOPs. Even on the smallest level within the company itself, we encourage employee owners to be part of this thing that creates a community within the company. And there's no reason to limit that community within just the company. You know, if your employee owners are like a small family, then the community or it can be an extended family. And certainly other ESOP companies are a part of that as well. So there's, there's no reason why there can't be this greater effort for companies to reach out to each other and build those lasting connections. Another really great opportunity that employee ownership month presents is the ability to reach out to government officials and to advocate for employee ownership. Year round outreach is already really important to the ESOP community and there's a lot of outreach that happens at the Washington DC conference. Isn't that correct, Bret?


Bret Keisling: 14:07 That's right. Brian. And as part of the conference, generally the conference has been historically on a Thursday, Friday and on Wednesday people would come a day earlier than the session started, and actually we would divide and visit as many congressional and senatorial delegations from their own state. So we think anytime you can reach out, that's a positive thing. Another thing that's really important are legislative changes on the state level and here there are a number of state organizations that kind of take the lead. The VEOC [http://veoc.org/] up in Vermont has been a guest of the podcast. They do a great job. Indiana has a very robust statewide organization. The Ohio employee ownership group at Kent State is very impressive, and indeed Brian as you know, Capital Trustees as a founding member of the Pennsylvania CEO [PaCEO], which is an NCEO affiliate based in Pennsylvania, and all of these organizations have more of a focus on the state legislative environment. So we're very good. We know that the Main Street America Act was just passed, which in time should lead to good ESOP growth, but there's a lot of work that could be done on the state level as well.


Brian Keisling: 15:19 Absolutely. And October, again, being employee ownership month provides an excellent opportunity for companies to reach out to governments, both on the state level, coordinated with local chapters or even on the local level. The ESOP Association talks about you as an ESOP company reaching out to your local government and have them issue a proclamation that October is Employee Ownership Month. Make it formal in your community so that it's not just something that you're saying, "It's Employee Ownership Month." It's officially established and it's a great way to have employee ownership beyond the radar of your local elected officials. They also recommend inviting elected officials to take a tour of your company. We know that on the national level there are several prominent senators who are very active with ESOPs. We had Bernie Sanders visit the Vermont employee ownership conference. We had Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sponsor the Main Street Employee Ownership Act, and there's a lot of great work that your locally elected officials could do as well. Invite your state representative to come and take a tour of your company. We often find that elected officials will jump on any opportunity that they can to come and talk to groups of voters.


Bret Keisling: 16:40 And Brian, one of the things you mentioned, Senator Gillibrand, you mentioned Senator Sanders. I just retweeted last week on my twitter feed Senator John Thune, who's the Republican senator from South Dakota, had just visited an employee owned company, a factory I believe, dental factory tour. And Senator Thune tweeted about it. My point, the thing that I find fascinating, we actually covered this story, our ESOP podcast about Vermont where Bernie Sanders was the speaker. I pointed out that employee ownership, the support runs the gamut from Senator Sanders who describes himself as a Democrat socialist and to John Thune, Republican from South Dakota and Pennsylvania, Senator Pat Toomey, who is recognized as one of the more fiscally conservative senators serving today is a strong proponent of employee ownership as well. So I think what a lot of state officials haven't focused on the issue, but if they realized, I don't know any other issue today in the current political environment that can be endorsed, whether you are on the right or left, far left or far right, you know that there's just employee ownership. Sometimes you get to your support from a different place, but the support of employee ownership crosses all parties.


Brian Keisling: 18:00 Absolutely. It's one of the very few things that is truly bipartisan and it's a great opportunity for you to have your elected officials come and see not just what you do as a company, but also how you represent ESOPs as a whole. It helps spread that awareness. A lot of government officials would love to have the opportunity to learn about ESOPs. They might not know a lot about it and by being invited to your facility, by being able to go on a tour, by being able to shake hands with the employee owners who make your company what it is. It's a great chance for you to advocate for ESOPs as a whole, for you to put yourself on their radar and for them to be able to become inspired to do more legislatively that would benefit ESOPs.


Bret Keisling: 18:47 And, not to take advantage of it, but I think it's worth noting that any public official that tours an employee owned company is likely to want their own press releases and photos out and therefore there's going to be general publicity for the company, which is never a bad thing.


Brian Keisling: 19:02 The ESOP Association's guide actually has an entire section that talks about how you as an employee owned company can coordinate with the press to make sure that there is a widespread knowledge of what employee ownership month is and how it affects you and how it affects the community. They do provide a lot of great resources which helps you get in contact with the press, what you should say to the press to make sure that you're spreading the word because it benefits you. It benefits the community. So it is a really strong resource for getting the word out there about employee ownership.


Brian Keisling: 19:37 And with that we want to thank everyone for joining us today on the podcast. We know today's episode was a little shorter than usual, but we thought it was important with October coming up so soon to go over the basics of Employee Ownership Month. We hope that you got some ideas from this episode. Maybe things you can do in your community, ways you can reach out to elected officials, ways that you can celebrate or educate within your company, and we also hope that you're able to take full advantage of that wonderful resource provided by The ESOP Association that we're linking to under this podcast episode on our website. We found it to really be invaluable and we're sure that you can get a lot out of it too. With that, we hope you join us next week on the podcast. I'm Brian Keisling with Capital Trustees. Have a great week everybody!


Brian Keisling: 20:25 Do you have feedback about this or any other episode of The ESOP Podcast? Do you have a topic you'd like for us to discuss on the show? Would you like to appear on the podcast as a featured guest or a panelist and a group presentation? Then we want to hear from you! Send us an email to podcast@captrustees.com. Thanks for listening.


Announcer: 20:48 Thank you for listening to The ESOP Podcast, brought to you by Capital Trustees and their managing directors, Bret Keisling and Richard Heeter. Production assistance provided by Brian Keisling and Third Circle, Inc. Logo design by BitsyPlus Design and music created by Max Keisling. Join us again next time for The ESOP Podcast.

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