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ESOP Summer School 10: Cedar Rapids, Iowa & the EO Eight

Welcome to our third annual EO/ESOP Podcast Summer School series. We've selected some of our favorite episodes over the past year to bring you all summer long. We're going to spend the summer catching our breath and recharging our batteries. We're also going to be wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

In this episode, we looked at eight amazing employee-owned companies who came together in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with an innovative approach to promote employee ownership in their community.

Shoutouts, thanks, and congratulations to these Iowan employee-owners featured in The Gazette, which is itself an employee-owned publication:

And a final shoutout to Daniel Goldstein, CEO of Folience, who would be happy to chat with other employee owners who would like to grow their community in this way. You can reach him at

You can hear the original October 15, 2019 release of this episode in Episode 87 of The ESOP Podcast.


Summer School 10 Transcript

Bret Keisling: Welcome to our third annual EO/ESOP Podcast Summer School. We've selected some of our favorite episodes over the past year to bring you all summer long. We're going to spend the summer catching our breath and recharging our batteries. We're also going to be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. I hope you will to join us for new content each Friday throughout the summer on the ESOP Mini-cast. You can support our work by subscribing or following us wherever you get your podcasts. Enjoy the episode.

Bret Keisling: Hello, my friends, thank you for tuning into the podcast today. I appreciate your joining us. As regular listeners know there's a lot I get excited about employee ownership. There are so many opportunities not just to provide better services to existing employee owned companies, but to create an inspire all new employee owned companies. There's a project going on in Cedar Rapids, Iowa that brings the best of everything in one promotion. It ties companies together that are employee owned, it advocates for new employee ownership, and connects a lot of dots that I think are very, very important. In our show notes, we're going to have a link to an ad called "Celebrating Employee Ownership in Cedar Rapids" and as I said at the top, eight pioneering companies, and it is fair to call them pioneers, all of them, have joined together to promote employee ownership, so a full page ad has been created. It's going to run in a Cedar Rapids newspaper, The Gazette -- incidentally also employee owned. And it's these eight companies coming together, sharing that when employees work together, everyone shares in the rewards. "Businesses grow and gain advantage. Employees become stakeholders and grow their wealth." And "local economies gain valuable services and stable jobs." This is copy from the ad. "Businesses and consumers: support the Cedar Rapids economy and do business with an employee owned company. Employees: become an employee owner and earn a stake in your company so that you and your family are better prepared for a financially secure future." And then the ad says, "Want to learn more? Speak with somebody from..." one of the eight pioneering companies and names, phone numbers, and emails are included.

Bret Keisling: Folks, this is so important. We are going to talk about each of the eight companies and give them a shoutouts for this amazing project, but before we do, I just want to talk a little bit about the ad itself.

Bret Keisling: I've been sharing on the podcast for the last four months about how we can grow the sandbox together and there are so many different things that go into employee ownership: advantages to selling shareholders advantages to the employees, advantages to the local economy. All of the things mentioned in the ad. But what I particularly like is that the ad covers these points and specifically says to businesses and consumers support our local economy and do business with an employee owned company. Folks, I've been talking about this for awhile. Over the summer I was traveling between central Pennsylvania and my new home and offices in Denver and got off at a highway rest stop and there were signs for three businesses. I Googled. One of the businesses, Sheetz, was employee owned, so I shopped there. I've had discussions with many people that were not doing a great job of promoting, buying employee owned and here this ad ties that together, not just for consumers but for businesses.

Bret Keisling: If you have the opportunity to buy employee owned, buy employee owned, that helps all of us. The other thing that I really love about the ad, and I shouldn't say the other thing because there are so many things I love about the ad, but it addresses employees directly. "Become an employee owner and earn a stake in your company." I have the luxury of discussing a lot of opportunities and ways to grow the employee owned sandbox through the various podcast properties and public speaking and one of the things that I've noticed is all of the efforts tend to be in the ESOP world, understandably at the moment, focused on the selling shareholder. How can we appeal to the baby boomers who need a succession plan or others who are in a position to transition their business? To me, the groundswell of support that would be excellent would be if employees at companies understood the benefits if they became employee owned and rather than from the top down -- selling shareholders are going to sell -- what if we could grow the movement from the bottom up? Where employees are going to the selling shareholders and saying, "Hey, if this were employee owned, this is what it would look like." That is absolutely the right way to go.

Bret Keisling: Another thing that I loved about the ad is it says, "Want to learn more? Speak with someone from the Cedar Rapids employee owned business community," and it lists all eight companies. They're not saying call this person, call that person. They're saying we're all employee owned and any of us will be more than happy to lead the charge on having the conversation. So let's talk about these eight companies. I'm going to share a little bit with you. I'm going to share from their websites, tell you a little bit about their businesses because quite frankly, all eight companies deserve attention from the national employee owned community for this really brilliant and innovative ad. I've never seen anything like it.

Bret Keisling: But what I do like about it is, and you'll hear in the company descriptions, there is some crossover among the companies. There are some interactions perhaps of what the companies do, but there's nothing in the ad that divides them from the community. In other words, they all in this project working together and they understand that first of all they'll benefit as companies just from participating in this marketing campaign like all companies do with all marketing campaigns. But they also seem to understand that if the employee owned movement through ESOPs and other employee owned companies is more vibrant in Cedar Rapids, it'll be more vibrant in Iowa and that will help all of the companies as well. So by tying together become an employee owned company, support employee owned companies, and sharing the advantages of them. I just think this is just a really well done ad. I hope you'll take a look at it and to be honest with you, I really hope you'll reach out to the companies and congratulate them on this absolutely wonderful job that they did.

Bret Keisling: Because of this one single ad. I have 10 shoutouts to do on today's podcast so let's get right to it!

Bitsy McCann: Shoutouts, thanks, and congratulations.

Bret Keisling: Okay, folks with the nature of the podcast, we're not going to do any in-depth profiles on any of the companies. We're going to give short snapshots and, quite frankly, taken from the websites. I hope you'll visit their websites and I hope that you'll reach out to the companies and congratulate them and we will have some information at the end of all of the shoutouts on who you can contact if you want to replicate this.

Bret Keisling: First company up is Rayser Holdings. Rayser is more than just a holding company. Their core values create value that's felt at every level because success is shared through their ESOP. They grow together. Folks, the ESOP from their homepage on, is a big part of what they're doing. Their highlights: community, community is relationship building, Rayser is a strong advocate and catalyst for strengthening the bonds between the community. Culture is community. They foster ownership through efforts that support individual self-actualization. Their clients are more than just customers. They build long lasting relationships with them and collaboration is engagement and engagement is ownership. Folks, these sounds like words, just words, but the concept is that everybody is in this together and it's not just the teams at Rayser, but it's the community itself, their customers, clients, everybody and I love that. Rayser's employee owners, they're dedicated to delivering a positive experience for the clients and they have several brands that are enhanced with their employee ownership background. CarePro connects customers and healthcare providers with people, products and answers. And Keltek Inc. protects those who protect us. They provide supplies, install and service vehicle upfitting, communication, and IT products for law enforcement, fire, EMS and public works agencies. The employee owned companies are doing very important things and Rayser puts employee ownership right at the front of them and we thank them and congratulate them for being part of this very important initiative.

Bret Keisling: The next company is the ESCO Group. The ESCO group's mission is to improve the technical competency of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration, the HVACR industry. They offer accreditation, certification, conference, educator credentialing. They have an online store and training packages. Folks. This is really cool to me because the ESCO Group performs as their mission something that's important to a lot of employee owned companies. They make their industry better. When they do their job right they're impacting an entire industry on improving standards and certifications and that sort of thing, and that is at the heart of the mission of employee ownership and we are very grateful that the ESCO Group is in the EO space and very grateful and thankful they've participated in this ad.

Bret Keisling: The third pioneering company is Folience. Folience grows long-term financial value by investing in human development. Folience is a family tree, truly, and harmony is the fruit of their philosophy. Each brand leads strength to their collective vision, so it's absolutely essential to nurture bonds and establish something meaningful. The brands in the Folience family include Cimarron Trailers, Life Line Emergency Vehicles, The Gazette, Color Web Printers (CWP), Fusionfarm, hoopla,, Iowa Ideas, The Fairfield Ledger, The Washington Evening Journal, Mt. Pleasant News, and The Southeast Iowa Union.

Bret Keisling: By the way, several of the eight pioneering companies I'm giving shoutouts to are holding companies with multiple brands, so actually speaking, there are probably about 18 to 20 companies or brands tied in with this one promotion. But Folience just does a wonderful job. They're very active and visible in the greater employee ownership community nationally. They've got some wonderful brands and when I'm reading some of the language from the website about Folience being a family tree and harmony is the fruit of our philosophy, some people may not quite get that. It might be too poetic. Frankly, 10 years ago I might've been the same way. But employee ownership, I'd humbly suggest the poetry is part of the magic. Everybody understands it's not just counting beans and divvying up profits. There's so much more and Folience does just a wonderful job of promoting employee ownership culture. By the way, all of the websites for the companies I'm talking about today are beautifully done. Folience, I particularly enjoyed reading some of the bio's for the team members. So check out the websites not just for their core products and services and that sort of thing, but you do get a sense of the culture of the companies.

Bret Keisling: With that, our next company up is Nelson Electric Company. It was founded in 1969 and they built the company through innovative thinking, inventiveness, precision, reliability, and the highest quality -- the foundational elements of Eastern Iowa's reputation for craftsmanship. Folks, let me translate into employee ownership speak. When a company in Eastern Iowa refers to the foundational elements of Eastern Iowa's reputation, they are talking about culture, they are talking about community. So as we promote the employee ownership community, I applaud Nelson Electric for also promoting the Eastern Iowa community. Nelson Electric offers commercial, industrial, lighting management, solar energy and the maintenance, maintenance and service of existing equipment and wiring. They've been at it, as I said, since '69, an ESOP in the last seven or eight years I believe, but they have project management experience totaling more than a hundred years and Nelson Electric Company is just a wonderful part of the pioneers who brought this ad together.

Bret Keisling: Next, we have The Palmer Group. They've been providing employment solutions since 1998. Here's what I like -- they're helping people find jobs, they are employee owned and their message: They get it. Finding a job on your own can be challenging. That's why we spent 20 years helping professionals like you prepare for and find rewarding new positions at Iowa's top companies. They've hired more than 18,000 people and they do it again each and every day. Consider The Palmer Group, your personal search party, your treasure map, your secret weapon. I love this at Palmer Group, we're not just filling positions, we're looking to empower you for a lifetime of success.

Bret Keisling: Now folks, The Palmer Group is based in Iowa and I'm not sure how, quite frankly, all of the job searches work, et cetera, et cetera, but if I were going to be looking for a job and I were looking for an employment agency, what would be more helpful than having an employee owned employment agency help you? Aren't the folks at Palmer Group going to have a better sense of what you're looking for? Aren't they going to take what's important to them in their culture and their approach and want to port it to the jobs that they're filling? So obviously they'll filll lots of jobs. Not all of them can be an employee ownership and that sort of thing, but I do think there are executives in employee owned companies, and I shouldn't even just say executives, there are employees at all levels who have said to me in their next position they want to be at an employee owned company. Boy, an employment group like Palmer Group would be a great way to go. By the way, all of the pioneers have done a great job promoting employee ownership on their website. Palmer Group gets a a extra point just because ESOP is in their logo and we appreciate that.

Bret Keisling: Next up, Rinderknecht. This is such a cool website. "How do we behave?" Unconditionally adhering to the following core values: "Safety -- not an option. Integrity -- to the highest level. Trust -- earned and kept. Selfless spirit --" in quotes. "You own it!" What else did they say? "Employee ownership makes a measurable difference in the way Rinderknecht does business. Each employee owner has a personal stake in ensuring their work is of the highest quality and that Rinderknecht customers are completely satisfied. Rinderknecht encourages its people to anticipate and exceed client needs while ensuring client satisfaction. This approach also creates job satisfaction for our staff."

Bret Keisling: Here's another thread with so many employee owned companies. You know back in the day it used to be the customer's always right. Setting aside that policy for a moment, the goal of having satisfied customers is obviously very important, but Rinderknecht like many, many employee owned companies equates the customer satisfaction and employee ownership with a direct line to job satisfaction. Many of their folks have made careers with Rinderknecht, and I love this: "We are your friends and neighbors with over 400 years of combined construction experience." Folks with employee owned companies, you have the experience, but it is that culture and community again, they are friends and neighbors. The other thing about Rinderknecht, if you can go to their website, look at the team bios. Look at all of the team bios, they have great pictures, they've got just real human bios where you get to know a little bit of the folks, but Rinderknecht. just has one of my favorite team member pages I've seen in quite awhile. Absolutely love it. So thank you for everything that you're doing. Thank you for being such a great addition to the Cedar Rapids and national employee owned community and thank you for having so much fun on your very professionally well done website. Just congrats, thanks, kudos all around.

Bret Keisling: Next we have Timberline Manufacturing. They were founded in 1993. They provide electrical contract manufacturing with a specialization in wire harness assembly, control panels, and circuit board assembly. In addition, they provide engineering, quality assurance, prototyping, and RF testing services "and whether you're looking for a single prototype or 10,000 units," they're your "go-to source for complex electrical sub-assemblies and quality-focused engineering support." Timberline's 100% employee owned. They've been employee owned since 2012. "Pride of ownership and the entrepreneurial spirit of the founders now thrives at every level of the organization." Folks, we've seen this at a couple, from the Nelson Company and now this, just on today's podcast. Employee ownership oftentimes picks up the thread of the founding shareholders, so if you had a good company that had a good culture, et cetera, et cetera, sometimes employee ownership is just an easy natural fit.

Bret Keisling: As I've often said on the podcast, employee ownership won't make a bad company, a good company, but it can sure make a good company a great one. And by the way, Timberline believes it's approach leads to employees who are more engaged, which in turn leads to better quality products. They go on to say that their employee owners are "experienced, highly-skilled problem solvers, focused on delivering what customers want," when they want it. Ultimately, Timberline's ESOP, the employee stock ownership plan, "is good for employees and for customers." Folks, this is so, so important. It again ties in. It's good for the employees, it's good for the customers, it's good for the community, it's good for the economy, it is good for management, et cetera, et cetera. So it just covers all of the great things.

Bret Keisling: Our last of the eight pioneers, Van Meter. Van Meter's a100% employee owned company that understands when you succeed, they succeed. "That's why each one of [their] employee owners works hard to improve customers' productivity and profitability by delivering superior products and innovative services." Here's how they work to create lasting value: Unparalleled customer service. They are dedicated to providing everything customers need to succeed, including product specialists, on-call technical support, drive-through pickup, online ordering and more. They deliver superior products. They have more than 800 best-in-class brands. They have $45 million worth of in-stock inventory, same-day delivery, 15 branches in the Midwest and more. They have customized services and solutions. They're empowered to find the best solutions for your needs and the right products and services. They have dedicated teams to develop custom innovative solutions and they have "empowered employee-owners" who are "encouraged to make decisions." Allow me to say that again. There are empowered employee owners who are encouraged to make decisions! They have a shared purpose to succeed with and for their clients.

Bret Keisling: Van Meter was formed in Cedar Rapids just before the start of the Depression in 1928. Proving they've always been forward thinking, they were the first to outfit their headquarters with fluorescent lighting west of the Mississippi. Folks, innovation is natural to employee owned companies! In 1928, 50 years before there was an ESOP, decades before there was any thought of employee owners. They were innovators. So despite the daunting task of selling new technology during the Depression, the Van Meter company survived and thrived powered by their motto, "Service is our first thought." They succeeded because they believed the owners, employees, and customers should treat each other as family. Folks that's in the 1920s and '30s treat each other as family. That sounds like employee ownership. That sounds like culture. Underlying that commitment to service is their tireless spirit of innovation. Each employees encouraged to listen to customers and motivate manufacturers to create better solutions. They understand that when the customer's business grew, the whole "family" grew. More than 85 years later, they have 450 employee owners remain committed to those same values. So whether the customers need wire services, technical support, project management assistance or additional solutions our - their - team is ready and willing to go above.

Bret Keisling: Folks, the purpose and culture, and I know I've shared the purpose of culture and I know I'm just bringing stuff from the website, but I really do think it's so important. They're more than products. It's a shared purpose. They work, they grow, they innovate, they advance. That's because their purpose is more than electrical distribution. Their shared purpose is to create lasting value for those they serve because every employee is also an equal owner in the company. They value each other as well as our customers and here are the beliefs that guide each and every one of them, every single day. "We help our people to be their personal best. We build strong relationships with our customers and suppliers. We improve ourselves and our company every day. We make a difference in the places where we work and live. We grow to reinvest in our businesses and our people."

Bret Keisling: Folks, this is great and one of the thing I like about Van Meter is that a lot of companies focus on employee ownership in terms of it being good for their employees, good for their customers. Van Meter drew the added connection that their employee owners are empowered to speak with their manufacturers and to have the manufacturers assist with solutions that are going to help the end users, and I'm sure a lot of employee owned companies do in fact work with the manufacturers as part of what they do, but I love the fact that Van Meter put it as a hallmark of what it is they're doing. That it's multi-pronged: work closely with the manufacturers, work closely with the customers, and the employees owners in the middle are driving everything.

Bret Keisling: Folks, there's so much in this ad that is absolutely wonderful. I hope you check out the ad. We'll have links to it. We're going to have links to the eight companies. I'd really appreciate couple of different things, as I've said, reach out to them, let them know you appreciate all the work that they're doing to grow employee ownership. This ad is innovative. The other thing is, to the extent you might be able to use some of the services, I'd really encourage you whether you're in Iowa or not, to make use of the services. Some of them may provide services available online or have products for sale. But I will tell you that the one thing that I'm planning to do is if I ever hear of anybody looking for any sort of work or companies in the Iowa area, I'm going to refer them to one of these eight and hopefully, from far away from Iowa, I can help grow the Cedar Rapids sandbox. What I really, really am impressed about this ad is that it ties together everybody in Cedar Rapids. It is eight companies all coming together as equals and it's so portable to other communities. I'm going to be back with two more shoutouts related to this ad, one of them for the newspaper in which it's being published and the other for someone I've gotten to know in the employee ownership community partly because of this ad. But first, if we've talked about you on this podcast, we'd rather you talk about yourselves. Here's how:

Bitsy McCann: Are you a passionate employee owner or advocate? Would you like to share your passion on The EO Podcast and ESOP Mini-cast? We're looking for correspondents to help us tell the great stories of employee owners and their companies. We're looking for one to four minute long segments that can be recorded remotely over the internet or telephone. If you're interested, drop us a line. You'll hear contact information at the end of the episode.

Bret Keisling: Thanks, Bitsy. Two more shoutouts related to the Cedar Rapids initiative. First of all, I was thrilled when I saw the ad. I reached out to some folks who were involved in the ad and just loved it. Not just the composition of the ad, it's gorgeous, but I loved the fact that the companies all came together that they had the approach of growing their businesses and promoting employee ownership and I just absolutely loved it. And then I found out that the ad was created and placed in The Gazette, which is an employee owned newspaper! Now it's one of the Folience brands that I'd talked about earlier, but the fact that these companies came together and placed an ad in an employee owned newspaper to me is just so cool. Obviously this ad can go in non-employee-owned newspapers and I believe that the Cedar Rapids group is looking at opportunities to do that.

Bret Keisling: The other thing that struck me is I've been in the ESOP and employee ownership field for about 12 years now. I didn't even realize that there were actually any community newspapers that were employee owned and now Folience owns several of them according to their brands. I did see at the New England conference last week, Yankee Publishing, you may know them as the Old Farmer's Almanac, has become employee owned and I love that and we'll give them a shout out in future episodes, but the fact that this ad by the eight pioneering companies was placed in an employee owned newspaper to me is just marvelous, as I said, and I hope The Gazette and their sibling publications under the Folience brand just do so well and really appreciate that that The Gazette is part of the employee ownership community.

Bret Keisling: The other shoutout, and I did want to do it separately from all of the different companies: Daniel Goldstein is the CEO of Folience. Daniel worked behind the scenes to put this ad together and to get it out there and for anybody who's interested in finding out how they might be able to do something in their community like this, Daniel has asked me to share that he'd be more than happy to chat with you. We'll include his email in our show notes or on social media, but I can tell you it's Daniel at Folience - F, O, L, I, E, N, C, E, - .com, And if you reach out to Daniel, ask him how to do it in your communities. But also please thank and congratulate, not Daniel per se, but Folience and all of the companies that are involved in this.

Bret Keisling: One of the things that I would like to stress is that Daniel was kind enough to reach out to me the day before I recorded this to give me a little bit of background. We are going to have him on a podcast in the next couple of weeks to give the backstory of how this ad came about. I've heard the backstory, but I'm going to share it -- save it -- for Daniel to share. He's also going to come on and tell the Folience story, which is amazing. But here's one of the things that I really appreciate about Daniel. He asked me to please minimize the role he played in the background that he wanted to make sure that the eight companies, and frankly the seven companies that he's not the CEO of, got the lion's share of attention on any promotion that I did.

Bret Keisling: Here's what I know about Daniel Goldstein. We referenced him on the podcast several weeks ago [in ESOP Mini-cast Episode 53]. Our contributor, Jen Krieger of Weaver CPAs, did a update from the NCEO national conference and she was just asked to pick out three things that impressed her the most at the conference and one of them was Daniel Goldstein's keynote address. Daniel was the keynoter at NCEO this year. He's on the board of the EOF, the Employee Ownership Foundation, which is the foundation arm of The ESOP Association, and I understand he's also a board member of EOX, which we've talked about on past podcasts as well [in ESOP Mini-cast Episode 51], is working to create new centers state by state. I really loved the conversation I had with Daniel, I think we're, in many respects kindred spirits about just seeing the potential of employee ownership. I love Daniel's perspective that we are all in this together and that we should all work together and where we can work arm in arm, then we do so, but where we diverge a little bit because of different geographies or different views, whatever, we still do it with affection, appreciation, and respect for those others in the sandbox who are working so hard as well. So Daniel, you have motivated me personally. I'm really looking forward to you coming on to future podcasts and telling the stories of Folience and really importantly the backstory of how the Cedar Rapids ad came together and your ideas to port that ad to communities all around the country.

Bret Keisling: So, with that folks, we're going to leave today's podcast with just Cedar Rapids. We'll be back Friday with the Mini-cast. We'll be back next Tuesday. But I hope during employee ownership month you do something to celebrate your employees if you're employee owned, if you're a professional adviser, celebrate your clients. Do so on social media. If you tag #KEISOP, K, E, I, S, O, P, or you tag @EO_Bret or the @ESOPPodcast on Twitter, we're certainly going to pick it up and like we did with Iowa and Cedar Rapids, we want to celebrate anybody we can.

Bret Keisling: 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: 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. And I'm Bitsy McCann.

Bret Keisling: My name is Bret Keisling. Thanks for listening.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Temi, 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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