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Mini-cast 129: Jon Shell of Social Capital Partners

Bret Keisling is joined by Jon Shell of Social Capital Partners who was instrumental in arranging financing for Taylor Guitars' recent conversion to 100% ESOP. On this excerpt from an upcoming episode, Jon shares three EO A-ha Moments.


Mini-cast 129 Transcript

Bret Keisling: 00:08 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. In January, 2021, in Episode 119 of the ESOP Mini-cast, we talked about the exciting transition of Taylor Guitars to a 100% ESOP. That transaction has been covered extensively by the [Fifty by Fifty] Employee Ownership News, which is a project of The Democracy Collaborative and curated by passionate EO advocate Karen Kahn.

Bret Keisling: 00:41 I didn't realize at the time of the Mini-cast, that the transaction was very unique in two important respects. The financing was provided by a Canadian pension fund. I'm not aware of any other pension funds investing and as ESOP's are a 100% United States creation of Congress, it's very encouraging that a Canadian pension fund would see the value. Next Tuesday on our primary EO/ESOP podcast, I'm going to be joined by Jon Shell of Social Capital Partners, who put together the transaction, and Marjorie Kelly of The Democracy Collaborative, who does amazing work supporting the expansion of employee ownership. One of her passions is expanding access to capital, and I think you'll really enjoy that episode.

Bret Keisling: 01:30 As you know, we've been collecting EO "A-ha Moments" from all of our guests since the fall of 2020. So I thought today I'd give you a little introduction to Jon Shell of Social Capital Partners by way of his EO A-ha Moments. As you'll hear, he's actually had three of them. And what I love is that all three build upon each other. He couldn't have gotten to the second or third moments if he hadn't had the first.

Bret Keisling: 01:58 Here's Jon Shell with his EO A-ha Moments.


Bret Keisling: 02:03 I'm very pleased to be joined by Jon Shell, who is the managing director of Social Capital Partners. Jon is a tremendous employee ownership advocate and also the first international guest of our podcast, so we're extra excited! Jon, thank you so much for coming on.

Jon Shell: 02:20 Thanks, [Bret]. Nice to be here... or be on Zoom with you.

Bret Keisling: 02:24 That's as close as any of us have gotten in 2020, so you're absolutely right. And Jon, a lot of what we're going to be talking about is Canadian-based but you happen to be in Australia right at the moment, so this is extra international.

Jon Shell: 02:37 Yeah. I'm trying to bring all of the international as much as I can to you.

Bret Keisling: 02:41 I love it. So, Jon, as you know, since September, 2020, we have been collecting EO A-ha Moments from our guests. Guests who've had those moments that not just where they heard about a EO or liked it, but somehow it was such a moment that it was "Holy moly, this is important!" Have you had one or several A-ha Moments that you'd like to share?

Jon Shell: 03:00 Yeah. I mean, if you'll indulge me, I would say there are probably three. You know, the first is super boring. I mean, the first is and what we'll, I'm sure we'll talk about this, but over the past three or four years at Social Capital Partners, we've been in a process of trying to figure out the best opportunities for us to engage in helping to broaden ownership in the private sector. You know, we are a nonprofit whose objective is to increase economic opportunities for people who don't otherwise have them. So we, you know, we started thinking about ownership three or four years ago, what's the best opportunity? So we just did a bunch of research, honestly. And because we're Canadian, we didn't really have any idea about the ESOP in the US.

Jon Shell: 03:47 Our ESOPs is a stock option plan. This whole US ESOP was, you know, was foreign to us to pardon the pun. And you know, when we found out about it, and so how successful it had been, it was sort of amazing to us. I think it's much more well-known in the US and so it was frankly just our research. We said, well, this is clearly the best opportunity for us, because it's the most scaled way to broaden ownership that's ever been invented. And so how do we, so we were like, okay, what, how do we find out more about this? And, you know, how do we help it grow even more?

Jon Shell: 04:24 And so that's number one, just purely through research. Number two is one of the first things we did once we said, okay, we need to learn more about this, is we went to the NCEO conference in Pittsburgh in 2019. Now that was an A-ha Moment. I mean, first seeing a senator both Democratic and Republican open the conference and it's, you know, from an outside observer perspective, that seemed unusual you know, in the US. And to sit amongst the 2,000 or 2,500 odd people there who didn't have a, necessarily, a political point of view, or would have had a wide spectrum of political points of view, but were there because they believed so deeply in employee ownership and, you know, what it had done for them, what it had done for their companies, you know how powerful it was both personally and financially -- was almost overwhelming in terms of just the, how lovely it was to be in that crowd. And say, gee, you know, this is very different from the, you know, financial system that we at Social Capital Partners know reasonably well. It doesn't work like this! Who are these people? How did they get here? How do we have more of them? This is, this is great!

Jon Shell: 05:35 And I'd say the third, you know, we, you know, not to -- we shouldn't get too, you know, we've done only one deal, right, Bret? I mean, we, you know, we just closed a deal in December to finance the transition of Taylor Guitars to a hundred percent employee ownership, which I'm sure we'll talk about. But the closing meeting, which was obviously held over Zoom in, on December 31st, was an unbelievable moment for everyone who was on that call. You know, first of all, we got to hear the genuine passion that the owners of that company had for what they had just done. We were able to hear the genuine thrill of the pension fund that we worked with to finance this at being involved in this transaction.

Jon Shell: 06:23 And, you know, I've been to closing dinners before. I've been to closing dinners on bigger deals than this one. But nothing has ever compared to the feeling of being in that room as this deal was closing, which confirmed our thesis, which is that a a financial actor, so the pension fund whose objective is commercial returns for their members, could be a very powerful actor in supporting ESOPs and be a super appreciated person at the table by ESOPs themselves and the owners of those ESOPs. So, that was a very powerful moment for us and say, okay, we're actually on to something here. This could actually work.


Bret Keisling: 07:05 I hope you'll join me next Tuesday for the full episode with Jon Shell and Marjorie Kelly available wherever you get your podcasts and at We've got all of our 270 episodes in our archives and most of them come with full transcriptions. We hope you'll check them out.

Bret Keisling: 07:24 If you have an EO A-ha Moment, I'd really love to hear it and if you're willing to share with our audience. You can share your moment on social media and if you tag me or the podcast, we'll be sure to see it. And if you're involved in employee ownership and haven't had that A-ha Moment, be patient, you will.

Bret Keisling: 07:44 For the last year, I've ended all of our episodes mindful that the pandemic has been devastating for many, by reminding everyone that we're all going through it together. This week, I got my vaccine and I'm very excited to already see the makings of an amazing comeback in the next year or two. So mindful that we're going through this together, it's also how we'll get through it, together, which is in the best spirit of employee ownership.

Bret Keisling: 08:10 Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling; be well.

Bitsy McCann: 08:18 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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