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Mini-cast 105: Michael Keeling - The Origins of EOM

Bret Keisling is joined by Michael Keeling, retired head of The ESOP Association, who shares how Employee Ownership Month started with NCEO and blossomed into the EOM we love today.


Mini-cast 105 Transcript

Bret Keisling: 00:05 Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. We are in the third week of Employee Ownership Month, and if you're a regular listener, you know I love October. I love the opportunity for companies to celebrate their employee owners and I think it's so cool that so many companies share their EOM celebrations on social media.

Bret Keisling: 00:34 That got me thinking Employee Ownership Month has really taken off in the last 10 years or so. It existed when I first got involved in ESOPs in 2008, but I had no idea how it started and how it's grown into what it is today. So I reached out to Michael Keeling who, as you know, spent 29 years at the helm of The ESOP Association. I was hoping he could shed some light on its origins. It turns out that the origin represents the very best of the ideals of employee ownership. As you'll hear, Michael credits Corey Rosen, who's a founder and long time head of the NCEO. It's a great example of how collaboration and giving credit to others brought about what is truly my favorite month of the year. Here's Michael Keeling speaking about Employee Ownership Month.

Michael Keeling: 01:25 It, truthfully, was a concept that was promoted by Corey Rosen, who used to be the top executive of the National Center of Employee Ownership. And we're now speaking roughly 1989/90, and I was not the Chief Executive Officer of the association, but I was the outside counsel and I'd go to the executive committee meetings, which actually ran the association in terms of volunteers. And Corey reached out to The ESOP Association at the time, a young man at the time, named David Benz was the staff director and said, will you join with us and have both organizations promote October as Employee Ownership Month?

Michael Keeling: 02:15 And you know, David rightfully, brought it up with his chair at the time. And that chair, sadly, is deceased now. He was with a company in New York City called Katz Communications, he was the CFO -- Dick Mendelson, I don't mind -- he was not for the idea. Katz Communications was one of the oldest and the earliest ESOP companies, it was bought out somewhere in the nineties and a hundred percent, one of the first a hundred percent companies in America. And as chair, he was against the idea. I'm fuzzy trying to remember Bret, why he was against it so. I do remember one really telling statement he made when David brought it up to the board, would the, you know, would the executive committee and ESOP formerly get involved with endorsing it and promoting it with members. Mendelson said every month in Katz Communications is Employee Ownership Month and to set forth that only one month do you observe, I think that's a bad idea. And, as you know, in a small group Bret, and the group was even smaller than, the leader's voice is often strong and there was nobody on the executive [committee saying] "Oh, we disagree with you, Dick. We disagree with you."

Michael Keeling: 03:37 Well, what happened was Bret, some of the companies, as you well know, were active in both The ESOP Association and the NCEO, and they went ahead and kind of participated with what publicizing the NCEO did.

Michael Keeling: 03:57 And one of those people in particular, who became chair just before I became, he overlapped my tenure as the Chief Staff Officer by a month was one Vit Eckersdorf with a printing company in a suburb of San Francisco. And when he became chair in '89, I think he immediately turned the association in a different direction. And the voice was made clear to Corey and the NCEO that The ESOP Association would promote Employee Ownership Month. And candidly, even though the first few years, it took some time getting his feet on the ground becoming, I don't mind saying that when I was the Chief Staff Officer, it was already established. Keeling, The ESOP Association promotes Employee Ownership Month!

Michael Keeling: 04:53 And given, and this is not a negative statement, but we have more members than the NCEO. We actually have bigger budgets than the NCEO. And I think that the involvement of The ESOP Association pushing it in the newsletter, pushing it at the chapter meetings, pushing it here and there. And so many of the members, volunteers, and chapter level, and even the national level became enthusiastic about it.

Michael Keeling: 05:21 And what we see today, a good, what is it, 31 years later or something like that Bret? I'm amazed when I go onto websites and type in ESOP, how many companies in LinkedIn and on Twitter are celebrating in the company with the employees, Employee Ownership Month. And so that's the history, but the history doesn't really describe what's occurred in the last 30 years and how it skyrocketed, Bret. So for the last decade, 15 years, it's been a unified effort across the ESOP world, any group. Bret, the ESCA Group, which gets started there in the early 21st century after they passed the law about it. ESCA does a wonderful job with its members, promoting employee ownership within the companies in the month of October.

Michael Keeling: 06:18 So it was a tip of the hat to Corey for coming up with the idea. Frankly one would have to ask Corey, was that your idea, or did someone suggest it? [Laughter.] All I know is Corey brought it up with The ESOP Association and it took about two or three years for the leadership of the association to get behind it a hundred percent. And when I was in the Chief Staff Officer slot for 28, 29 years, there was no question, The ESOP Association with its newsletter and then we get into the internet and Twitter and all that would promote Employee Ownership Month.

Michael Keeling: 06:56 And it got to the point where the chapters would meet and companies would ask me to come speak at the company celebration. It's a fascinating, Bret, absolutely fascinating how it turned out, given the origin of a leader saying, "No, no it's Employee Ownership Month, every month in our company and we don't need a special month to celebrate!" [Laughter.]

Bret Keisling: 07:20 That was Michael Keeling. Michael was kind enough to appear all the way back in March, 2018 on Episode 24 of our primary ESOP podcast. I recommend you check that episode out because he does a great job of sharing the history of The ESOP Association. I've always been grateful to Michael for supporting the podcast. He was encouraging to me when we were only getting 40 or 50 listeners a week. Now that we're approaching a total of 60,000 listens, I'm grateful for all of his support and encouragement through the years. You can find Episode 24 and all of our archives at And I'm very excited to share that a brand new episode featuring Michael Keeling is going to drop on November 3rd.

Bret Keisling: 08:03 Next week, I'm joined by Jennifer Briggs for a wide ranging conversation about employee ownership. I hope you'll catch those two episodes. If you're an employee owner, an employee owned business, a practitioner, or an EO advocate, happy Employee Ownership Month. Everything that I'm able to talk about on this podcast is because of all of you and the work we're all putting in to grow the EO sandbox. So thank you for everything that you do and making Employee Ownership Month such a special time. Right now, we're all going through a lot together and that's how we're going to get through it, together. Thanks for listening. This is Bret Keisling have a great day.

Bitsy McCann: 08:49 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.

Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.

A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by 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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