Mini-cast 138: Rodney North’s EO A-ha Moment


Bret Keisling is joined by co-op consultant Rodney North who shares his EO A-ha Moment, which happened two years after he started working for a workers’ cooperative.


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Mini-cast 138 Transcript

Bret Keisling: [00:00:12] 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.


Rodney North is also a passionate advocate for employee ownership. He's a co-op consultant focused on the creation of new worker cooperatives, as well as the operations of existing co-ops. You first met Rodney on Episode 117 of our primary EO/ESOP Podcast that aired in September, 2020. We also featured that podcast at the end of the year in one of our 10 best interviews of 2020. It's a great conversation with Rodney and I hope you'll check it out along with all of our archived episodes at www.EsOpPodcast.com. And I'm pleased to have Rodney join me for a few minutes today on the mini-cast.


Rodney, thank you so much for coming on.


Rodney North: [00:01:01] Thank you for inviting me back, Bret. Always look forward to it.

Bret Keisling: [00:01:04] Rodney, it's a pleasure. And you were on the podcast, as I said, in September, 2020, and just 10 days later on Episode 101 of our ESOP Mini-cast, I shared my EO A-ha Moment. That moment when I realized employee ownership was more than just a good idea, it had the potential to be transformative. And since that time, every guest on my podcast has shared their A-ha Moment, but we started the series just 10 days after my interview with you, Rodney.


Have you had an EO A-ha Moment that you can share with our audience?


Rodney North: [00:01:36] Sure, at least one, and this was the first one that came to mind when you asked, so maybe it's the most powerful. Like a lot of your guests, I was well in to my work at a worker-owned co-op business, Equal Exchange. As it goes at many co-ops, first I was an employee. And then after, in my case, two years, I was voted in to be a member, like one share of stock, one vote. Not too much later, I then was elected as a worker owner coordinator. So this person convenes the meetings of the worker owners to help us conduct our business. And there's some other responsibilities are going on with the coordinator. But yeah, as an elected leader, I was really into it.

And it's like the way the temperature gradually grows during the year from spring to summer, one day may not seem that much different from the next. But one that stands out where I think things began to gel, I was facilitating a meeting, we're still pretty small, probably 20 at most worker owners at the time. And I don't remember what was the topic, but one of the founders of the co-op, who I greatly respected, I think either wanted to change the agenda or he wanted us to speak about something, but he made a motion for something.


Now, as a facilitator, I've got that discretion of what we do and what we don't do. And I found myself in this quandary where like I disagreed with him. I didn't think it was what the group needed right then. And I went out on a ledge a little bit and it's no, like we're not going to like change the agenda, whatever it was he wanted. I said, "no, we're not going to do that. We got to keep going."


And with some trepidation after the meeting ended, we're milling around, we're leaving the room and he came up to me and said, "you know what? Yeah, I wanted what I wanted. But you were right. You were running the meeting. You had to make that call. I respect that and that's what you got to do."


And that was a huge relief, but also that's one of those times when I think I'm beginning to get it. What happens when, in this case, a founder has relinquished control ownership to share with the group also meaning, and not just like paper ownership and portions of profits, but control over big and little things. And so that was worker ownership. And in this case, democratically managed worker ownership, in action. And so things were always different for me from that point forward.


Bret Keisling: [00:04:05] Rodney, that's great. And it brings two points to mind. First of all, and you and I are talking about a variety of different podcast ideas that it's too soon for us to announce, but we're going to be investigating a lot of the aspects of worker cooperatives. So first of all, you have the governance side where you were empowered to make this decision.


But the key thing for the casual listener, is in any other business structure, if the boss said hey, we're adding this to the agenda, gets added! And you would not have had the guts to have said no. And you would not have had the ability and. It would have gone badly.


Here, it's the governance. It speaks to the governance and this is the point that resonated with you, where your decision as the facilitator is what doing that job was the priority, not placating somebody that was a founder. The power for you was when the founder came back and said would have liked to have covered it, but you were correct. You actually had the authority that you exercised.


Rodney North: [00:05:03] Yeah. Yeah. And you got to make your best call. And he was basically, he was -- what's the opposite of hypocritical? He was walking the talk of democratic worker ownership.


Bret Keisling: [00:05:14] And I won't go too far down this cause there's one other thing I want to bring up, Rodney, but isn't it a shame that there's not a ready word for the opposite of as we all know...


Rodney North: [00:05:23] Yeah, yeah. Authentic might be a word.


Bret Keisling: [00:05:26] Authentic is good. The second point that I would like to make, and it's for those employee owners who are listening, we tend those of us in organized EO to put the employee owners on a pedestal in such a way that there's almost a perception of "boy, the moment you become an employee owner, you get it, and everything is magical." And you have said, what a couple of other guests who have said who've worked for either ESOPs or co-ops, that no, you can go your do your job and it happens to be a co-op and you can like it, you like your job, but you don't like it because it's a co-op, and at some point it suddenly kicked in and I'm assuming your experience there, we did talk about it on Episode 117 of the podcast, but your experience there is what led you to your career now as a passionate advocate.


Rodney North: [00:06:10] Yeah, yeah. So that was early on and that was easily let's call it around 1999, so 22 years ago. But it was, there was a, I think in physics you might talk about it. -- is it a shift change or a state change? Just where things -- there was a change in equilibrium. Just the world's different from that point forward.


Bret Keisling: [00:06:30] They call it state change. They called a change in equilibrium. Perhaps I prefer to call it an EO A-ha Moment! Thank you very much, Rodney. Thank you very much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.


Rodney North: [00:06:40] I appreciated it too. Thank you, Bret.


Bret Keisling: [00:06:42] All right. And with that, we're going to wrap up. I hope folks, you will join me next Tuesday on our primary EO/ ESOP podcast, where our podcast episode is a long form conversation with Marjorie Kelly of Democracy Collaborative. She's been doing this a long time.


Rodney, while I'm here, that's a pretty good guest to have, isn't it?


Rodney North: [00:06:59] Marjorie is great. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.


Bret Keisling: [00:07:02] Excellent. So with that, Rodney, thank you again. Listeners, thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

Bitsy McCann: [00:07:10] 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.


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 Descript, 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.