Mini-cast 158: Hope for an EO Movement!



Bret Keisling is joined by Loren Rodgers, Jennifer Briggs, and Victor Aspengren. Each address why they believe that 2021 may be looked at as the year employee ownership began to coalesce into a movement. The reason: historic levels of collaboration.


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Mini-cast 158 Transcript

[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: 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. Sometime in November, you're going to hear a full podcast episode featuring Loren Rodgers of the [National Center for Employee Ownership] NCEO with Jennifer Briggs and Victor Aspengren. They were talking about the importance of independent board directors.


It's a great episode. We just recorded it. And I'm grateful because I said to the guests, I'm about to do a Mini-cast on hopefully EOs moving towards a movement, and they've agreed to stick around!


So, welcome Loren. Thank you for hanging in.


[00:00:45] Loren Rodgers: My pleasure, Bret. Thanks for doing this,


[00:00:47] Bret Keisling: Jen, thank you for hanging on.


[00:00:49] Jennifer Briggs: Of course.


[00:00:50] Bret Keisling: And Victor, I appreciate you as well.


[00:00:52] Victor Aspengren: Thank you, sir.


[00:00:53] Bret Keisling: So, let me tee up my premise. A year ago, I started a series of podcasts. "Where is EO?" Where is the movement?


And I followed up in the spring and I've had conversations with folks have been on my podcast, I have talked about EO as a movement, and it is my contention that we are not a movement. We have the indicia of the movement, we have the disparate groups of the movement, but we are not a movement. I've compared it to maybe the 1930s, 1940s, where there were various civil rights organizations, but it didn't coalesce until sometimes later as a movement.


And now just a week ago on the Mini-cast, I did a Mini-cast that talked about EO Equals, a brand-new campaign to raise awareness. I talked about Ownership America, a brand-new organization that's focusing on lobbying. And I also talked about the brand-new EO Podcast Network, which is my podcast, and two others hosted by other folks. But with all of these newness, there's a lot of collaboration going on. And I've just not the glimmer that we can't say that we're a movement today, but it feels to me sincerely and hopefully 2021 might be the year that we look back and say, this is where the movement started.

Loren, am I on the right track? Do you feel the vibe?


[00:01:58] Loren Rodgers: I feel the vibe, Bret. And it's been my experience that we've had these disparate pieces of a movement for a long time. It seems like the co-op people and the ESOP people are getting along in a way they never have before.

We've got new forms of employee ownership that are emerging. People in equity compensation who never saw themselves as being a form of employee ownership. It feels to me like all these different players are really coming together in a self-conscious way that's just never happened before.


[00:02:27] Bret Keisling: I love that! Jennifer?


[00:02:28] Jennifer Briggs: Yes. And I would be remiss if I don't remind everybody that we did the We the Owners documentary. Mary Ann Beyster was really responsible for that, and that was done years ago, but one of the things that documentary, I think, featured were the different forms of employee ownership. And I got to do some stuff with the Democracy at Work Institute, and I loved them. So, I think there's a lot more to this Venn diagram than we've ever really fully realized. And the appreciation that the ESOP community has given to the cooperative community and, I have to brag, the work that we're doing in Colorado with the [Colorado Employee Ownership] Commission of embracing all forms and a roadmap to employee ownership, even through other forms of equity. Carta is starting to get involved.


And so, I think it's incredible and I would like to see us continue to work more together. Because that's always my worry is that we have so many organizations working on this, if I'm a business owner and I need resources, does it just seem really loud? So, we need to figure out a way to route the voices in a direction that's most useful to our policymakers and to our business owners.


But I feel the same way, Bret.


[00:03:28] Bret Keisling: Jennifer, let me ask - and Victor, I'm going to ask for your comment in just a moment - but you mentioned Colorado, Jennifer, and you're actually a commissioner on the Employee Ownership Commission. If we take Colorado and just put it in its own little petri dish, which is a horrible analogy, but are you guys closer to movement than the rest of us? There's so much going on in Colorado.


[00:03:46] Jennifer Briggs: There is so much going on, but if I could be a downer for a minute, we are not getting the number of transactions. There's all of us, these voices, and we would like to see more business owners considering it. And so, this is where I think we have to look at the broader economy when we're competing with business owners’ interest to private equity, to venture capital, and these things. So, we collectively, I think, are becoming more and more of an alliance. It's more and more powerful. But we have to get out of our own kind of bubble and speak to more people and get this awareness out there to those business owners and maybe even work collaboratively, if I can dare say, with venture capital and family offices and make this a broader economic movement. I think that's part of the next step.


[00:04:27] Bret Keisling: Victor, you've been in the field since 1999. You are the current Vice Chair of the board of the NCEO and the incoming board chair. What are your thoughts?


[00:04:35] Victor Aspengren: You might've opened Pandora's box with me, because I've been on this kick for some time as in regards to collaboration. Because I've been on the service provider on the company side, but I just did a webinar with the Great Game of Business, talking about multi-generational ownership.


So, I'm going to maybe take this up to even a higher level. But when you think about ERISA, what was it, in 1976 when it came out ERISA and the ESOPs? So, really ESOPs didn't really start taking off until probably the late eighties, nineties started going. Cooperatives have been around a long time, but the cooperative model has been around in Europe and Asia and over there for decades, hundreds of years.

But I think what we're seeing now, part of the "have," "have not," and the whole, the downside of, maybe, capitalism. But I think we're starting to see the generational shift that I think we finally gone through a generation of ownership and ownership discussions.


Because my example would be, I was in Italy, studying cooperatives and we met a gentleman that worked in a cooperative. He retired and we said why did you go there? Why did you work there? Why didn't you go work somewhere else? You could have made more money or whatever. And he said, you know what? He goes, I got my warm place here. He goes, I got a little plot of grass out there. I have my garden. He goes, I go out and have some fun with my friends and the ladies, but he goes, the biggest reason I did it is because of this community and so that my son and my grandsons would have a place that could provide the right things and not the grotesqueness that sometimes that capitalism brings.


And I think in the employee ownership world on this podcast, it was a father and a son, and we're starting to see the second generation where actually, people been in ownership for their whole career. And now you're starting to see family members come back into ownership.


So, I think we are on that cusp. I think there's the younger generation is" I like this." And they've heard about it and for many of them, they've seen it. It's just, we still don't have mass numbers, but I think there's something definitely there.


And Jen is absolutely correct in we've got a lot of moving pieces out there. And collaboration is the name of the game and anything that we can do in this all employee ownership world to collaborate. And the world definitely has come together from where it was 10 years ago. It has moved mountains since then.


But I think we still got a little ways to go. It's got to be something that people look for. My opinion is I don't think younger people or new workers out there go out and say, I'm going to work for an employee-owned company when that starts to happen, I think, we will get to a movement.


[00:06:57] Bret Keisling: Victor, I love that. I appreciate everybody's comments.

Let me just sum up part of my hopefulness and, Victor, you said it's the collaboration and we've all talked about it. There was a time, when I was a trustee from 2012 to 2019, when we said things are robust what we all meant were the practitioners were really busy. The trustees had all the work they could get, and the lawyers could, and the valuation advisors. And that is important and I did well.


But now, the robustness - and by the way, the professional advisors are all still really busy, but I happen to think we need a lot more professional advisors, whole other podcast topic, they're really busy - but it is the robustness of the organizations. And I loved, and I don't think I'm talking out of school, when EO Equals launched a few weeks ago, The Kendeda Fund, which was the primary funder organized a phone call and there were probably 15 organizations involved on it for the kickoff. And if you are not collaborating in the space, in my humble opinion, you're in the way of everybody who is.

So, I appreciate everybody with the collaborations. I really appreciate your thoughts. And I hope every so often you'll all pop in and we can all appreciate, we're moving a little closer towards a movement because we're doing good work.


Loren, thank you.


[00:08:07] Loren Rodgers: Thank you, Bret.


[00:08:08] Bret Keisling: Jen, thank you.


[00:08:09] Jennifer Briggs: You're welcome and thank you.


[00:08:10] Bret Keisling: And Victor, thank you so much.


[00:08:12] Victor Aspengren: You bet, my pleasure.


[00:08:13] Bret Keisling: With this turbocharged really fast Mini-cast with my guests. I am so grateful to them. Thank you very much for listening and check out the full episode on independent board of directors and all of the great tools that are available on the NCEO.org website. You'll hear more about the independent directors in the weeks to come.


Thank you so much for listening. Have a great day. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

[00:08:36] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network, production assistance by Victoria Huerta, original music composed by Max Keisling, branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design, 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.