Steve Storkan, executive director of the Employee Ownership Expansion Network, EOX, describes a state by state approach to growing EO.
With the Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership, PaCEO, as one of its models. EOX has opened State Centers in North Carolina and Georgia.
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Episode 91 Transcript
Bitsy McCann: 00:03 Welcome to The EO Podcast, where we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.
Bret Keisling: 00:13 Hello, my friends. Thanks for listening to The ESOP Podcast. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership and I am so grateful that I am not the only passionate advocate for employee ownership! I meet them all the time. Some are professional advisers who have that extra, they're passionate about growing employee ownership. Certainly many, many people are employee owners themselves who not just go to work at their companies or their factories or their plants or the professional services firm, but they are mindful that employee ownership is what my friend Jason Wellman calls "the secret sauce."
Bret Keisling: 00:50 Today, I'm very happy to bring you a conversation with another passionate advocate for employee ownership. Steve Storkan is the executive director of EOX. He spent 26 years as a professional adviser in ESOP space before joining the EOX. And in terms of passionate advocacy, he is the real deal. So without further ado, with great appreciation to Steve Storkan, here's my conversation with him.
Bret Keisling: 01:19 It's my pleasure to be joined in person with Steve Storkan, the executive director of EOX, the Employee Ownership Expansion Network. Steve, how are you?
Steve Storkan: 01:27 I'm pretty good. That's a mouthful to get all in there, right? That's why it's "EOX"!
Bret Keisling: 01:30 That is - EOX is so much better. And it's very cool for me to be recording this with you in person because as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. But Steve, you are as well.
Steve Storkan: 01:42 I am passionate about employee ownership for sure. And that's what that's what got me here today for sure in my position.
Bret Keisling: 01:48 So do me a favor, give me the 30 second / one minute description of EOX, but then I want to go back and talk about how you got to be executive director and then we're going to circle back and talk about some of the really cool stuff that EOX is doing. Is that okay?
Steve Storkan: 02:01 That sounds good. So EOX has a mission and the mission is to expand employee ownership through the creation and support of state centers across the United States. It is our goal to have -- by 2025 I think is the date that we've set there -- but to have 70% of the US population covered by a state center, and that includes today's state centers that are already there prior to EOX plus all the new ones that we're trying to create. Just really to have boots on the ground to expand employee ownership.
Bret Keisling: 02:34 All right, so you have the opportunity to really, to take a nationwide look at growing employee ownership. But when did you join EOX?
Steve Storkan: 02:41 I was hired on January 1st of 2019.
Bret Keisling: 02:44 Okay. So you are new to this position this year, but you have spent quite a good bit of your life in employee ownership, haven't you?
Steve Storkan: 02:51 I am. I'm a recovering third party administrator. [Laughter.] 26 years in the business. Started right off, in a law -- I joined a law firm -- as a legal assistant in an employee benefits law firm, and it turned into this TPA career. It was, my last home was, six years at Alerus Financial out of Grand Forks, North Dakota. I'm a Minnesota boy, born and bred, lived there my entire life until two years ago when we moved to D C which is a whole long other story we don't need to go into. But yeah, employee ownership has been a passion of mine. I enjoyed going to work every single day just because as you know, as an advocate for employee ownership, it's just a different breed. Sometimes people call it a cult and that's probably a bad word for it. But just going to work knowing that we're changing people's lives and what ESOPs and employee ownership does, I've always been passionate for that. Involved in the Minnesota/Dakotas chapter of The ESOP Association forever. I was the president of that chapter, led their government relations committee prior to that. So just, I'm all in and always have been. So when the opportunity came to change careers and go from the for-profit side to the nonprofit side for this mission of expanding employee ownership, which I felt like I was doing anyway as a third party administrator doing the ESOP 101 and kind of telling all these business owners, it was just a natural fit to try to put that passion to work in a different format.
Bret Keisling: 04:12 In terms of changing our roles. And I was a trustee for seven years and actually I started, my first foray was two and a half years as the CEO and employee owner at a 100% ESOP. Then I was a trustee. Now I have, you know, focused on The KEISOP Group and the podcasting, et cetera, et cetera. But we also have a friend, long time in the field, Victor...
Steve Storkan: 04:34 Correct. Victor Aspengren...
Bret Keisling: 04:37 Who -- legend -- and was with Prairie [Capital Advisors], I believe?
Steve Storkan: 04:40 Correct.
Bret Keisling: 04:41 And he recently left Prairie after a great career, and he also was a former, I think, CEO of an employee owned company, and now he's back in running an employee owned company or a subsidiary. Do I understand?
Steve Storkan: 04:53 Correct.
Bret Keisling: 04:53 So it's funny that, and Victor, I mentioned him because like you like me and there are a good number of us, but it's just one of those guys who I say "drank the Koolaid," which might be as equally inappropriate. You know, we've got to find a better way to say it -- but there is a passion to it. And for me, employee ownership just feels to be a natural way to address a lot of issues that are important to me. Do you agree?
Steve Storkan: 05:19 I do. And you know, EOX as we go across it and try to work with different organizations outside of the normal associations or people that we know -- and this nonprofit world is a whole new animal to me and working with foundations and people that I never knew existed. You know, we talk about things with like income inequality, wealth transfer. I mean all these things that we knew about as practitioners but didn't realize that the rest of the world -- and not the rest of the world, but a few select people in the world, in the world of philanthropy and nonprofit know about this. They know about the wealth transfer. And you know what the 2.3 million business owners who are owned by -- businesses who are owned by baby boomers. You have to strike while the iron is hot. And I think there's no better time to try to expand employee ownership than now because that wealth transfer could go one of two ways and we just want to have a seat at the table. That's really what EOX is trying to do is have boots on the ground to get people to know about this so that when succession planning happens, the word ESOP or employee ownership is at the table for those business owners.
Bret Keisling: 06:23 We'll circle back. You said some important stuff about the different roles of different organizations and the podcast is Switzerland. You know, we are neutral. We support absolutely everybody. And the reality is that when there are some who say we're neutral or you know we favor one organization or another, the podcast is even neutral on whether other people should be neutral or not. We do not pick sides. But Steve, the challenge that I think is missed is when Louis Kelso wrote the second edition of his seminal book that came out in 1996 he referenced in there, there, there were 6,600 ESOPs in 1996. NCEO data, which I think is 18 months old or so, but shows there's 6,500. We are stagnant in something that we all agree is very important, solves a lot of problems. And it seems to me that we as a movement - ignore one organization or another, all the professional advisers - but we as a movement need to break from the, when you do what you did, you get what you got. And that opens the door for folks like EOX. It's not to take away from other organizations, it's to enhance and add more.
Steve Storkan: 07:47 Correct. And you know, one statistic that I think people don't necessarily get right is that we all know that right now if we talk about the ESOP world we are having some of those S-Corp ESOPs that were created in the late nineties, early 2000s, that have been so successful. We all know that some of them are going away and that the employee owners are making out very well. I mean, whether we want to say that the mission was achieved or not and we can agree to disagree on that, but we're seeing ESOPs going away from terminations. But we also have to realize that if we didn't add new ones, we'd be going from 6,600 down to 5,500 to 4,000. So we do have to add, we do have to make sure that we acknowledge that we are still adding new employee owned companies.
Bret Keisling: 08:31 In talking about how EOX came to be, I know that the Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership of which my last firm Cap Trustees was one of the founders is a model and that sort of thing. Tell us how EOX has come about in the last few years. Where did it come from?
Steve Storkan: 08:47 So EOX started as a task force inside of the NCEO. Loren Rodgers and a few people had a great idea, or came to the realization, that if we're going to grow employee ownership and expand employee ownership state centers can have a role in that. They looked at the model that Ohio was doing and the amount of employee owned companies in Ohio, the amount of employee owned companies in Vermont, you know, the list goes on. But they really looked at that and said, there's got to be something here. No one's ever studied it. Let's study it. And so they studied it and said, you know, well, let's try this. We should try to create more state centers. And so this task force of five or six people, including Lauren, they put this together and they created the Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership. And the Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership has done amazing things. They're in their fourth year and we can talk about that if you want. But they have done amazing things for the promotion of employee ownership. As you and I both know there's a sales cycle, you can't go and say, well, how many new employee on companies have they created, it's more about how many people have they touched and they've just done amazing things. So it was inside the NCEO and that task force decided this is something that can have legs and created their own organization. So it became Employee Ownership Expansion Network. Interestingly enough, on July 4th of 2018 in Philadelphia, they incorporated. Our business colors are red, white, and blue and there's a reason for that. It's good for America, it's good for everybody.
Bret Keisling: 10:09 The EOX was incorporated July 4th?
Steve Storkan: 10:11 July 4th in Philadelphia.
Bret Keisling: 10:13 Very cool. I did not realize that. As you know, Steve, Capital Trustees, my former firm, was one of the founding members, founding sponsors, I guess, of PACEO. And Kevin, the executive director, has been on podcast, I think a couple of times. And we know, I know personally, the value that they've brought. They've done great things with the Pittsburgh City Council in setting up a task force to encourage employee ownership. They have done a great job of education and that sort of thing. So the Pennsylvania CEO became the model for what you're doing now?
Steve Storkan: 10:47 Correct. You are exactly right. Kevin and his his group in Pennsylvania, the PACEO, has had such great success in the model that they've created that we have taken that willingly from Kevin. Kevin has provided so many great resources for it.
Bret Keisling: 11:03 He's a great guy and a true believer.
Steve Storkan: 11:04 True believer, and has been, he has been the... he was on the task force. He really created, with the other people on my board, he created EOX and its form before it was EOX and was willing to share all of that while he continued to run PACEO. So without the PACEO there's no way that the success we're having today happens. So we're rolling out a lot of the great things that he did and we're adding on top of them because in the end what we want to try to do is Kevin and the PACEO on that task force, they took a lot of time and a lot of effort to make PACEO successful. And what we want to try to do is replicate that so that the state center that we have in North Carolina right now, that they don't have to struggle with all of the organizational documents. And then when we go to Georgia, we want to kind of try to speed up so that they can hit the ground running,, boots on the ground way faster and with less work than maybe Kevin had to go through in the PACEO. And it's working marvelously right now.
Bret Keisling: 12:02 And that's the really smart part. And I'm trying to do that with all the different aspects of what I'm promoting through the podcast, which is activities other people are doing, which is if we have a great idea and there is, in my view, just so much room for expansion that if there's a great idea replicate it, get it out there and have others build on what you're doing. And that leads to advocacy and other stuff. Let's talk about North Carolina for just a moment. Recently opened, just in the last couple of months?
Steve Storkan: 12:33 So I always forget the date, but sometime around the early June  North Carolina became our first EOX state center after PACEO that was opened since I've come on board. We now have a board of nine members in North Carolina. Many of them in the community, economic development leaders. You know, North Carolina is an interesting state in that they don't necessarily have that big ESOP group at this point. And so one of the things I may not have mentioned is employee ownership expansion is all forms of employee ownership. It's not just ESOP's. And so in North Carolina right now we're seeing a lot of work with the city of Durham who's involved and they want to make sure that businesses don't leave the city. Now, some of those businesses aren't big enough to be ESOPs, and so they're looking at the Worker co op model. But in North Carolina we have monthly board meetings and things are going really well. They're trying to get their fundraising up so they can hire a full time executive director. Right now they have a part time executive director, but there's some great things happening.
Bret Keisling: 13:31 Yes, Anne-Claire Broughton.
Steve Storkan: 13:31 Anne-Claire Broughton. Yep. She and that group was just at an SBA meeting, a bunch of SBA lenders and SBA DC employees and talking to them about employee ownership. So some great things going on in North Carolina. And, and the reason I smile is because if I think about Pennsylvania and the great things that Kevin is doing and just what's happening with the buzz of employee ownership and I think to the future of EOX and the state centers, imagine that happening. You know, I can see what's happening very early on in North Carolina and you know, we get to 10, 15 of these states and have this happen. It's just going to be an amazing thing that can -- an amazing swell of information and change that I think can happen.
Bret Keisling: 14:08 Steve, let me do a segue or a tangent perhaps, but I think it's kind of important. And I think a lot of times the ESOP world focuses on the ESOP world and folks, it is understandable, but the fact of the matter is, I have in the last six months been focused on the ESOP as the part of the broader employee ownership, the EO space. And the SBA was supposed to loosen their standards last year as part of the Main Street America Act to encourage loans that would create employee ownership. But the reality is there's a disparity for co ops, collectives, and that sort of thing. And that's one example where, again, for me, if the markets are right for employee ownership, whether collectives, co ops, or ESOP's, is that why it's important that you folks are working with the SBA to try and expand for everybody?
Steve Storkan: 15:04 We're trying to expand for everybody. And it's a good point that, you know, I'm 26 years in the business and I had never heard of a worker co op. I mean, I know what a co op was from my days living in rural Minnesota and having those kinds of co-ops with natural gas and things that my grandfather was belonging to as a farmer and things like that. But the worker co op world was brand new to me and it's such an amazing vehicle for businesses that don't meet the size and dollar requirements for an ESOP. And so I've been really, I've had a really good time learning more about worker co ops and how that can fit into the EO world. Because you know, the city of Durham for example is very interested in this as I said. But some of the businesses that they're looking at would never qualify and so if the only thing we had was an ESOP you know, this employee ownership movement wouldn't necessarily go that far. The other thing that I'll say about worker co ops is coming from the ESOP side, we just don't realize the things that are happening in the nonprofit world and the organizations that are already out there doing grassroots. For example, the Democracy at Work Institute. I'd never heard of DAWI before. And when you look at DAWI and work with them and they're doing amazing things, they're getting funding from some foundations to keep businesses, small businesses, in communities. So it's, you know, I went into this with the ESOP background thinking we could change the world with employee ownership and I'm so enthused about what else is out there that can help me. So...
Bret Keisling: 16:26 When we spun off the media properties and formed The KEISOP Group in June of 2019 I rather with hubris said, I'm going to change the name of the podcast from The ESOP Podcast to The EO Podcast. And Steve, like you, I didn't have quite your longevity, but I've been in employee ownership for 12 years and let's say there are some who consider me to be an expert in the ESOP space and I'm amazed how much, I don't know. The organizations, what you just said, and it's not just the big ones in the EO space, but statewide at the grassroots level in the major cities, there are so many really cool things going on. I was at the Aspen Institute recently in Washington, DC that had an Opportunity in America a day where it talked about inclusivity and the gender issues we've talked about in the workplace. And that's why I think it's really important that the organizations like EOX that are acknowledging it's all part of it, particularly in light of, as you make the point in all my years as an ESOP trustee, a startup cannot be an ESOP definitionally; can't happen. But it could be a co op, collective, or that sort of thing.
Steve Storkan: 17:42 Correct. Aand you know, the worker co op -- imagine being a business owner who's getting close to retirement, and all you can think about is these employees who have helped you get to where you are. You may have started your business in the basement, in your garage. Maybe your dad started it, but it's time for you to take this baby, almost a child and do something with it. Turn it over to somebody and you go to a conference and you don't want to sell it to private equity. You don't want it to go the way of that. Nothing wrong with that. If you do, I mean some people that's the succession planning and there's nothing wrong with that. But imagine if you go somewhere and then someone tells you that there's this ESOP but it won't work for you, you're too small. What do you do at that point? I mean, I was in that position when I would do ESOP 101 with customers and I'd talk about maybe, you know, a stock incentive plans or, you know, equity. How can we get our managers involved? There's some things we could do, but that transfer of ownership it's been so nice to learn about the worker co op and that side of the business that it just as, the card says, expansion of employee ownership. It's not just these ESOPs. Now granted one ESOP with 75 people is equal to probably six or seven co ops. But that doesn't mean that as an organization we're going to focus entirely on the bigger companies. We have to focus on employee ownership across the board.
Bret Keisling: 19:04 Well, and I've spent a lot of time paying attention to advocacy for employee ownership. And it strikes me that, first of all, we do not have the political strength at all, that we should in light of the fact that there are 17 million ESOP employee owners alone with all of that. To me, if we broaden it and look for everybody in the employee ownership space and we're reaching out together to our elected officials, one of the things, and I'm sure EOX is in this or will be in this more on the state level, we should be a movement with strong political clout -- employee ownership -- much like AARP is for the senior citizens, quite frankly. We have millions and millions of us and there's a lot more good we could do if we found a way to work together.
Steve Storkan: 19:51 There definitely is. And you know, from EOX's standpoint I think that the type of advocacy that we're going to do is going to follow kind of the same exact path that Kevin McPhillips has in Pennsylvania. You know, as a 501c3, as our independent, our state centers will be independent nonprofit 501c3, then we have to stay away from that advocacy. I mean The ESOP Association has a designation as an advocacy group and they have the 501c6 and then that's what they're meant to do.
Bret Keisling: 20:20 And they do an excellent job at that.
Steve Storkan: 20:22 They definitely do.
Bret Keisling: 20:23 Absolutely.
Steve Storkan: 20:23 And so I think where we're coming from is exactly what's happening in Pennsylvania. The city of Pittsburgh and the city of Philadelphia. I think it's Pittsburgh at this point. Seeing what's happening with this employee ownership movement, seeing this state center for employee ownership and coming to them saying, can you help us? I think there's some political movement that we could do, but I think it's more about them seeing the movement and letting them get involved because what they're really after is, at least at the, at the municipal level, is making sure that businesses don't leave.
Bret Keisling: 20:57 Right.
Steve Storkan: 20:58 That the wealth transfer happens, but that they just don't leave.
The city of Pittsburgh can't have all these baby boomer businesses leave. And so I think the advocacy will happen, from my standpoint at the EOX level, it'll happen on its own without us really having to go outside of our mission, which is to run state centers. It's going to happen. It can't help it happen.
Bret Keisling: 21:19 It certainly is okay. If it's outside of your mission that others you know, are left to do that part of it.
Steve Storkan: 21:25 Exactly.
Bret Keisling: 21:26 So let me ask this. We've talked about PACEO being the model. Now we've got North Carolina that's opened up. I know that you've referenced 70% of the population have coverage. How many states would that be?
Steve Storkan: 21:41 You know, it'd be -- if we don't get Texas, it's a lot more states!
Bret Keisling: 21:45 [Laughter.] That is fair enough.
Steve Storkan: 21:46 So, when I came on board that first week the task force had done a great job in identifying how they're going to get to that 70% number. And so I had kind of my marching orders, this is what it looks like. I think when I look at the number, it was somewhere around an additional 12 to 15 states that would get us there with a focus on a couple of things. They had done so much work inside that task force and had put out their feelers for people and had had at the NCEO conference, they had a couple of sessions, I think two years in a row, on state centers. And when people found out that there was this organization, the roadmap that I had kind of went out the window because my phone just started ringing and my emails started coming. And I currently have, as of yesterday when I added yet another state here at the conference, we now have 15 states who have contacted me with an ambassador or two who have said I'm either a service provider in the ESOP space, or I am an employee owned company, I'm a former selling shareholder, someone who's passionate about employee ownership like you and I are, have said we should try to open a state centers.
Steve Storkan: 22:55 We have 15 of those states now, as of yesterday. Of those 15, six of them are in live conversations and have gone down the path fairly far. We have North Carolina having been opened. Georgia, we can almost consider as being opened. EOX has funded that state center now as of or will be funding that state center soon. And then right behind that as Minnesota. So between North Carolina and Georgia and Minnesota, I'm hopeful that by December 31st we'll have those three state centers as
being officially open.
Bret Keisling: 23:25 Congratulations! First of all, just that is a good start, not a bad year, sir!
Steve Storkan: 23:29 Not a bad year! And when I say open, what I mean by that is we've got a board of directors seated. We have a group of service providers and advisory committee trying to help us broaden that network, do some fundraising. We're not fully up and running. We don't have a Kevin, we don't have a Kevin McPhillips who's doing amazing things yet as an executive director. But in, like we said, North Carolina has a part time executive director, we may do the same thing in Georgia. We're trying to -- ultimately, we want this to be a full time position of education and outreach across the state. But what I mean by as being open is we have the organization, we've filed our articles, bylaws, we filed for 501c3. I mean we're an actual organization.
Steve Storkan: 24:06 And then after that, what we're looking at right now, at least initially we've had activity in Florida, really good activity in Florida. We have activity in Michigan and then activity in Tennessee. Just this morning I met with a group in Tennessee, a group here at the conference nine people again from Tennessee. That's our third meeting. So I'm hopeful by June 30th that we'll have six state centers as officially open. Again, not all of them fully operational, but that the organizations have been created in those six states. And that if I was honest on January 1st, if I thought I could do that, I don't know if I could have. And I say "I" - it's not me!
Bret Keisling: 24:39 It is a team.
Steve Storkan: 24:40 It is a team for sure.
Bret Keisling: 24:41 Absolutely. And not only by the way is it a team with EOX - and if you want to share about your board and, you know, the markup - but it's also a team within each state and the ambassadors. So there's, there is the overall EOX team and then there's a lot of sub-teams.
Steve Storkan: 24:59 Sub-teams is a great way to put it. I mean, when you find you know, you start in Georgia with two people who call and say, we should talk about this, you know, that happened in January or in February call and talk to Tom Strong in Atlanta, who brings in a couple of other people. And next thing you know, we're branching out to, you know, we have 33 people attend our first meeting of organization of what this thing is about and have a second one. I mean, so it's truly these sub teams across the country. And it'll be so fun to see how these end up operating because I do truly believe that we can have a lot of PACEOs across the country and it would be amazing to see.
Bret Keisling: 25:40 And I imagine although there's a blueprint coming out of PACEO, you also have the agility to be state specific and if, if one state has particular needs or particular opportunities, you can adjust accordingly.
Steve Storkan: 25:52 That's a great point. And I tell people this all the time. North Carolina and Georgia came on board about the same time; completely different state centers. North Carolina, as I mentioned, is really focused inside of the, they're not going to say state government, but like I've mentioned the city of Durham, Raleigh, Durham they've done great things in trying to help out. Some economic development people, a law professor are on the board. The board of that organization looks completely different than the board and the advisory committee in Georgia, which has a lot of ESOP service providers. And we don't want to be restrictive on what, what each state center does. They're independent, we just help create them. But each one of those states and the people that live in that state and worked there forever, they know what that state needs. And it's worked great to be able to give them the tools to start the organization. But what they do with that organization, where they focus their time, we don't put any restrictions on that.
Steve Storkan: 26:47 The only restriction we really put on our state centers as we open them is that we do have a lane. That lane is education and outreach in the state center or in the state. And then once that education outreach happens, if we have a prospective business that needs some resources, then to be a hub for those resources, whether that be a valuation firm, an ESOP attorney, a worker co op conversion specialist. Whatever that business needs, we're the hub for that. What we are not, is we're not a membership organization, we're not going to hold conferences for employee owned companies. We have our lane, other organizations, again NCEO and ESOP Association have their lanes. And we're just not here to be in those lanes. We're here for education and outreach. And I think that's one maybe big distinction about other state centers from the EOX State Centers. And there's nothing wrong with, you know, the Ohio Center Roy Messing in Ohio has done amazing things.
Bret Keisling: 27:38 Absolutely.
Steve Storkan: 27:38 And still does. It's just that with the EOX model, we're trying to stay focused on education and outreach, which Roy does a ton of. I found out the other day, he works with the USDA, he has a grant from them doing amazing thing in rural communities. So it's a great movement. It's just that we have kind of what we want to do with our state centers and then once we get them up and running if they needed, or were focused more on worker co ops than ESOP, well go for it.
Bret Keisling: 28:04 If someone wanted to reach out to you as an ambassador in a state, maybe you're not talking to or it's a state that you're moving towards getting online, what are your expectations or hope for somebody if they want to become a passionate advocate in their state? What are you hoping from them in addition to what you'll provide?
Steve Storkan: 28:24 You know, a good example is, I think you connected me just by listening to your podcast, to Jennifer Krieger in Texas. And Jenn is my ambassador in Texas. And what we've done with her, and this is very new, this was within the last two weeks. You know, what she's helped us do is to identify, because she is in Texas, who else could help with this movement? I could go to Texas and just start knocking on doors and calling on a valuation firm or calling on a law firm or something. But she has those connections and the expectation we have of, as an ambassador -- of an ambassador -- is to simply open that network for us, gather those names, gather those other ambassadors to see if this is a state that can make this work. And then from there, they don't necessarily have to stay on board, but a lot of those ambassadors have so much passion that they're not going to go away. They want to lead the advisory committee. They want to keep doing these kinds of things, but it's not anything that needs to be done. EOX is equipped with enough resources. We certainly trying to get more, but resources now that we can take that lead, we don't need them to do the lead. We just need them to help us get in the door.
Bret Keisling: 29:31 If there were a phrase like "friend of the podcast," I think Jenn Krieger would about be one of our "best friends" at the moment. She's absolutely wonderful. And I do want to, this allows me to bring up a point. Jenn has been on the podcast a number of times now this fall. Her first appearance was giving an update from the NCEO conference in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, she's been very active, I think the Las Vegas conference, which is where you and I are recording this, is her third or fourth ESOP association conference in the last few months and working with you and being an ambassador and Weaver being an ambassador, it's not a matter of choosing sides. It's a matter of if we're going to grow, we can all do what we've been doing for a long time, which is go on the conference circuit and wait your turn and trying attraction, which you did as a TPA and I did as a trustee.
Steve Storkan: 30:31 Right.
Bret Keisling: 30:31 Or you can look for new alternatives. So I love the fact that Jenn is working with you and Weaver is working with you, but also because it shows that they're supporting everybody. Does that make sense?
Steve Storkan: 30:39 It does make sense. And a lot of the ambassadors that I'm working with, like I said, with my background and we are all in this together. We're trying to grow employee ownership no matter what organization we're with. And many of my ambassadors, maybe all of them, are involved in all the organizations. Many of my ambassadors are current or former chair/chapter officers or NCEO board members. I mean, we're all here and I think where the ambassadors see is that there's this lane -- that hasn't been empty, don't get me wrong, the lane of a growing employee ownership has not been empty -- but there is room for us to have this organization who strictly focuses on growth of employee ownership. That there is no other mission other than opening state centers. And when some of those ambassadors hear that, they really, because they're doing it as in their practices, they're doing it as practitioners. We just as practitioners never had enough time to go out and do my own seminar. It was always a seminar for one of my bankers who had three clients and that I was talking to. And I don't know that those clients ever thought that I wasn't trying to sell them something, even though I wasn't, I was just there as an employee. I'm passionate about employee ownership. I still think they felt like maybe there was a sales tool in there somewhere. They just couldn't see it and next time they talked to me, the sales pitch would come out, which was not the truth. And that you were in the same mode, I'm sure. But I think the state center movement can be this unbiased group that says we're just simply here to present the idea of employee ownership. And we know it doesn't fit for everybody, but we are willing to take the time to sit with everybody and anybody to talk about it.
Bret Keisling: 32:17 Excellent points. And just as a very practical matter, and again, you and I both had to grow businesses in the field and employee ownership. And it takes time and that's okay, you pay your dues and that sort of thing, but we've all been there. One of the challenges, and this is not a criticism of any of the organizations, but one of the challenges is if you're what I've been calling emerging professionals on podcasts, it takes a while to get some of the prime speaking slots or some of the, making headway to where you can be in a position of leadership in the major organizations because there's already so many talented leaders there.
Steve Storkan: 32:55 Right, right.
Bret Keisling: 32:56 Whereas somebody who wants to come on board and have a meaningful impact on growing employee ownership, you can actually get an important role with an EOX state center and show leadership, help grow the sandbox, as I like to say, and still be fully supportive of the organizations as well.
Steve Storkan: 33:17 Exactly. Right. Exactly right.
Bret Keisling: 33:18 Very cool. Anything else, Steve, that you would like to share or what can the podcast do to help support your efforts?
Steve Storkan: 33:26 You know, I don't know that there's anything more. You're doing great things with the, you know, being an employee ownership advocate and doing all of these recordings and then telling people what all everybody's doing in the industry. From the EOX, so we appreciate that, and from the EOX standpoint, as you said, if anybody's listening to this and this is something that is resonates with them we may or may not have an ambassador in their state. So, certainly reach out to me and I can tell you whether we have an ambassador and if we do, we'll add you to the list. And I have, hopefully, get the map on our website. EOXnetwork.org. Hopefully get the map of the states that we're working in here very soon. It's taken off so quickly I haven't had time to do that, but hope to get that up there. But otherwise just get into contact with me. And maybe somebody from New Mexico is listening to this and --- I don't know why I picked New Mexico, but... only cause I know I don't have a state center started there -- but, you never know. I heard, like I said, I heard your podcast about with Jenn and Texas happened, so... Yesterday Iowa happened. And so you just never know where it's going to come to.
Bret Keisling: 34:29 Well, and the ambassadorships by all means are just a start in the process.
Steve Storkan: 34:33 Right.
Bret Keisling: 34:34 So we do want to make clear if there are other ambassadors in Texas, or other folks in Texas...
Steve Storkan: 34:39 For sure!
Bret Keisling: 34:39 First of all, you would like more people involved, and so would Jenn Krieger of Weaver.
Steve Storkan: 34:43 For sure!
Bret Keisling: 34:43 She's not looking to carry this burden. And that's kind of the joyful approach of let's grow the community together. So Steve, let me just, if I've got this straight in my head so that our listeners would have it. First of all, if you don't have a state center and folks want to reach out to you, and in our podcast show notes, we'll have your contact information as well and et cetera. They can reach out to you if there isn't a state center, it's one of the states that you're talking about. But if they're a company -- or professional adviser -- but employee owned company in North Carolina, Georgia, they're already operating, those folks should reach out to you as well. Or you'll put them in touch with the state folks there. In other words, there are different people who can reach out to you at different times for different purposes.
Steve Storkan: 35:30 Exactly. And you know, I'm glad you mentioned that because I did miss an entire part of a state center. I'm so focused on the opening of the state centers. But when the state center is open, one of the key things that we're trying to bring to the table is that we do need a employee owned companies to tell their story. I think so many times practitioners, we've tried to create employee ownership and done a very good job of it, but we have the technical piece and we can relate to stories that we have of our clients, but it's so much more powerful to have the customer, the actual employee owned companies, whether that's the founding, the selling shareholder, the CEO, CFO, HR director, or just an employee who is passionate about it, who can tell their story about this is what it looks like from my standpoint. Those are, we need those volunteers when the state centers are up and running. And so it's not, you know, I talked about practitioners and other organizations. We need just as many employee owned companies to tell their story as we go around the state of, let's say, Minnesota, if I can get 10, 15 employee owned companies in Minnesota that are willing to, you know, if I need to go to Northern Minnesota, I can call on them and say, "Hey, I'm headed your way," or "my executive director is headed your way. We'd love for you to tell your story." And when I get that word out it, as you probably can guess, there's a lot of employee owned companies that want to tell their story. And so I'm happy to take those phone calls too. We may not be at that point in every state, but I'll put you on the list and you can guarantee we'll be calling on you.
Bret Keisling: 36:56 And I would say that if you call up Steve and say, "Hey, we'd like to tell our story through the state center." Perhaps you'd be kind enough to say, "and also on the podcast!" [Laughing.] If they heard about it on the podcast. But no, that's exactly right. And one of the things I love, Steve, is regardless of the organizations, regardless of either, you know, I'm kind of a free agent just trying to promote employee ownership, but we're all doing and promoting the same thing. And the tools are the same for all of us. We want people to tell their stories. We want people to share why it's important. To me, employee ownership, one of my big things is the average employee owner doesn't want anything different than what you and I want in our jobs. We want to be appreciated. We want to feel like we're participating in something important or that has meaning and we want to be reasonably compensated for our efforts, you know, to be part of a team. So those are the stories that employee ownership seems to make those items happen more often. And that's why it's important that we show the stories.
Steve Storkan: 37:53 Definitely, definitely. And to have a selling shareholder or more than one that owns a company to be able to know that they can walk away from the company that they've taken care of for so long, like the example I gave of kind of handing off that child to tell that story, it may not resonate with every business owner. But the ones that it does resonate with it's going to resonate through the stories, not through me telling them what a 1042 transaction is about. Now there are some business owners who 1042 transaction is exactly what they want to hear, but we have to find the balance of, of that story versus the tax benefits or any sort of other things that are not associated with the story. We need to lead with both of those. But I think in the end the story is what grabs people.
Bret Keisling: 38:36 Steve, I think you just gave us a great point to bring this conversation to a close. I really want to thank you for joining us today.
Steve Storkan: 38:43 Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work.
Bret Keisling: 38:45 You, too. And open-ended, in all sincerity, anything at all that The KEISOP Group or the podcast can do to support your efforts. And I'm going to say to you what I've said to a lot of people, please come back on, keep us informed so that we can keep everybody else informed. But my goal, five, ten years, Steve, we're going to be looking back, you and I, with some others in the field and saying we grew some employee ownership. That's a pretty cool place to be!
Steve Storkan: 39:10 It'd be a pretty cool place. Yup.
Bret Keisling: 39:12 All right. Thanks for your time, my friend.
Steve Storkan: 39:13 Thanks, Bret.
Bret Keisling: 39:13 All right. Bye bye.
Bret Keisling: 39:16 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.
Bitsy McCann: 39:40 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 Bret@KEISOP.com, 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, and I'm Bitsy McCann.