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Mini-cast 186: Project Equity CEO Evan Edwards

Bret Keisling is joined by Project Equity's CEO Evan Edwards. They discuss EO, unions, private equity and the EO "gold standard" of equity, engagement, and governance, in this excerpt from an upcoming full episode.


About Evan Edwards:

Evan began his career as the International Business Manager at an early leading technology start-up, Quarterdeck Corporation. Bitten by the start-up bug, he spent following years in leadership and consulting roles at a variety of early stage enterprises including (Northcore Technologies), Mediaseek Technology and Planesia Corp. Guided by a shift in personal and professional priorities Evan moved into the non-profit sector as Executive Director at YMCA Corporation of Los Angeles, leading the turnaround of an under-performing business unit. Driven by the value of social enterprises and the vision of a generative economy, Evan’s work with Project Equity creates strong collaborative partnerships across sectors. Evan is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL (a proud supporter of Wildcat football!), and has certification from Stelter in Professional Fundraising Management. When not working he’s playing sports, walking his dogs or cooking a great meal from scratch.

About Project Equity:

Project Equity is a national leader in the movement to harness employee ownership to maintain thriving local business communities, honor selling owners’ legacies, and address income and wealth inequality for low-income workers and Black and Latino workers. Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, Project Equity works with partners around the country to raise awareness about employee ownership as an exit strategy for business owners, and as an important approach for increasing employee engagement, retention and individual as well as generational wealth. They also provide hands-on consulting and support to companies that want to transition to employee ownership, as well as to the new employee-owners to ensure that they, and their businesses, thrive after the transition.

Previous Project Equity Podcast Episodes:


Mini-cast 186 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. This coming Tuesday on our full length EO/ESOP Podcast my guest is Evan Edwards, the new Chief Executive Officer of Project Equity.

[00:00:24] Meanwhile, the EO sandbox has been a buzz the last few weeks about private equity’s foray into employee ownership, most prominently with the formation of Ownership Works. So, I thought I'd bring you this excerpt of my full conversation with Evan where we discuss EO, unions, private equity, and what Evan refers to as the gold standard of employee ownership.

[00:00:45] Here's Evan Edwards of Project Equity.


[00:00:48] Evan Edwards: So, I think that where we are at, what I might call a golden moment for employee ownership potentially coming up here.

[00:00:57] You know, the fact that in one form it's being embraced by some in the private equity class. The fact, again, that there's this revitalized labor movement, what I, which, I think, bodes well for employee ownership because not every business is necessarily a fit for a transition to a union shop.

[00:01:14] But I think in general, we're seeing that we're at a time where, there's a recognition that, workers are worth more and workers should receive more. And I think employee ownership can impact from Main Street to Wall Street, you know, we're kind of a soup to nuts solution and that there will be along that continuum, Main Street to Wall Street, different forms of employee ownership or labor engagement that'll represent value to workers.

[00:01:39] Bret Keisling: And we've always had a certain split levels in employee ownership. So, for example, there are some who will say that there are 10 to 14 million employee owners in the United States. And although that's a broad range, they're right. That's all of the employee owners in the United States.

[00:01:57] However, when I speak about the employee owners on the podcast, generally, I'm referring to the 3 million who are at privately held employee-owned companies and these are the ones where in addition to equity, there's generally some level of participation and some of the things that we talk about all the time in terms of the culture, you know, communications.

[00:02:19] I think what's going to be very interesting coming out, and you're absolutely right that private equity's interest in employee ownership has just exploded in 2022 and it's only going to get bigger, you know, it seems to me from what I've been able to observe is the equity as a benefit. So, to some extent, it's closer to the publicly traded companies, where the equity is huge, the equity is real, but it does seem a little bit separated from the, you know, we're all in this together and all hands on deck kind of culture meetings that we might see at some of our association conferences. Does that make sense?

[00:02:53] Evan Edwards: Yeah. I mean, I look at it this way. Workers have gotten a raw deal in this country for the past, you know...

[00:03:01] Bret Keisling: Forever.

[00:03:01] Evan Edwards: ... forever. But the sort of similar moment was, I believe it was the eighties where President Reagan broke the air traffic controllers’ union. And that said about the demise of the labor movement, right? It's eroded significantly. And with that, worker rights throughout the country, right?

[00:03:21] You saw your first right to work laws take hold subsequent to that event. So, fast forward, you know, Project Equity, we speak to the gold standard, which is worker ownership of the business voice, full engagement in governance, soup to nuts, right?

[00:03:40] Having said that, we understand that's not necessarily going to be a fit for every business. We're not going to be able to achieve that. And so, it's important to move the needle vis-à-vis workers receiving equity as a benefit. And the fact that it is so high profile, I think it lifts all boats because now we can have a conversation at levels about employee ownership and other ways that employees can achieve equity and achieve ownership in a way that maybe we couldn't because we don't have the same megaphone that private equity does.

[00:04:12] So I'd, I'd like to look at it as a positive. No, it's not necessarily the gold standard, but it is moving the needles for workers, and it is providing a platform that, you know, we in our movement can leverage to be able to spread the gospel.

[00:04:25] Bret Keisling: Evan, I agree completely. And our tagline on the podcast, I think, for the first two or three years was we amplify and celebrate all forms of employee ownership.

[00:04:35] And I take that very much to heart, whether it's co-ops, whether it's ESOPs, even the publicly traded companies that have an employee ownership, you know, a percentage just as part of the benefit package. Boy, I celebrate that. That is absolutely great! That is equity for the employees. That just doesn't give a whole lot for me to chat about as a podcast host. And in terms of, and frankly, the cool stuff is the culture. What private equity has done with the push that's coming on and Ownership Works, and their executive director will be on the podcast later this summer and I'm very excited about that, they've got people talking about employee ownership who have never talked about employee ownership before.

[00:05:11] And that allows those of us who are interested in the 'gold standard' as you said, to open the door and say, well, this is a little different, it's a little bit involved. But it also allows us to open the doors to the companies that maybe aren't interested in the governance or the participation but are going to give equity and that is critical for our collective mission. You know, as you've chatted about just the expansion of equity itself should be celebrated.


[00:05:36] Bret Keisling: With that we'll wrap up today's episode of the ESOP Mini-cast. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for my full conversation with Evan Edwards. Meanwhile, check out our more than 400 episodes in our archives at Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

[00:05:55] 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.


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