Bret Keisling shares a clip from Episode 59 of the Owner to Owner podcast. Host Jesse Tyler's guests are three great employee owners from Northwest River Supplies (NRS), a 100% ESOP based in Moscow, Idaho. In this excerpt, Tony Mangini, CFO and human relations manager at NRS, shares his EO A-ha Moment.
Tony candidly explains how he attended a regional conference specifically looking for ways to shut down the company's ESOP. Instead, he learned something about ESOPs that would change his mind and change NRS into a tremendously successful 100% ESOP.
... or watch the video below.
Mini-cast 253 Show Notes
About Northwest River Supplies in their own words
When an idealistic business professor named Bill Parks set out in 1972 to prove that the principles he taught in the classroom could work in the real world, he had no trouble deciding what kind of startup to launch. Bill was a river runner, and he wanted to help others enjoy the sport he’d come to love so much. Starting with $2,000 from his savings, he stocked an inventory of boating gear in his garage and typed out the first Northwest River Supplies catalog.
Bill was drawn to rivers, to the beautiful places they carried him, to the challenge of running rapids, and to the people and experiences that made every trip a memory to cherish. Until he passed away peacefully at the age of 88, Bill was running rivers and working to help others pursue their passions on the water. And the nearly 100 employee-owners at NRS are committed to the same singular vision. What draws us to water is what drives us every day.
In the early days of rafting and kayaking, boaters had to work together to outfit trips, keep gear serviceable and, of course, get down the river safely. Bill enjoyed that aspect of boating, and he wanted to build that same kind of culture into his company.
We’ve grown a lot since Bill hand-typed the first NRS catalog four decades ago, but we’ve always remained true to his original ideals. We pride ourselves on working together to accomplish tasks, and everyone, from Bill down to the newest hire in the warehouse, shares responsibility for ensuring the highest standards of quality, service and integrity. We’ve never had a lot of managers, protocols, or official policies. Instead, we’ve tried to empower individuals to make the right decisions for the good of the customer and the company.
Learn more about NRS founder Bill Parks here.
NRS is hiring. For more info, click here.
Mini-cast 253 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. A few days ago, we dropped Episode 59 of the Owner to Owner podcast featuring three great employee owners from Northwest River Supplies, or NRS, having a conversation with podcast host Jesse Tyler.
[00:00:31] It's a great conversation. We'll include a link in the show notes to this episode, and you can also find Episode 59 at www.OwnerToOwnerPodcast.com.
[00:00:42] As regular listeners know, we usually start The EsOp Podcast and Jesse ends the Owner to Owner podcast with guests sharing their "EO A-ha Moment." Not when they first heard about employee ownership, but when they had the moment that made them go, "A-ha, employee ownership can be transformative!" Tony Mangini is the CFO and human relations manager for NRS, and I loved his a-ha moment because, as you'll hear, he went from "Nah" to "A-ha.".
[00:01:10] Here's Jesse Tyler and Tony Mangini of NRS.
[00:01:14] Jesse Tyler: Tony, did you have an EO A-ha moment, and could you share it?
[00:01:19] Tony Mangini: I did, but I'm going to hold you to the idea that we can have lots of opinions. So, like I said before, when Bill initially started the ESOP, it was the cherry on top retirement plan. I was the administrator, but I wasn't really asked to do much beyond that.
[00:01:33] And so, I learned what I needed to do, to do my job, but I really, didn't necessarily have a lot of buy in into the ESOP. And as it continued to grow over that 12 to 14 year period, I could see the writing on the wall that we were just paying distributions out with just operational cash and as the, I didn't really understand repurchase obligations and all that stuff, but I knew enough as an accountant to know that at some point the check comes due.
[00:01:58] And so, I was looking at it going, this is going to destroy the company. I, where are we going with this? And I don't think Bill had really thought about that part when he started the ESOP. He just liked the idea.
[00:02:09] And so, I went to an ESOP conference down in, a regional ESOP conference in Boise. And I went, my mission, to be 100 percent honest, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to shut this ESOP down before it destroys NRS. And so, I'm in a roundtable discussion with people, and I thought I had everything planned out.
[00:02:25] And we get into the discussion, and the topic of corporate income tax comes up. And I said, well, how much are you guys paying as corporate income tax? And they said, nothing. And I pause, I go, wait, what do you mean? What do you mean, nothing. And they said, yeah, we 're ESOPs, we're qualified retirement plans. We don't, we don't pay corporate income tax. Well, at the time the corporate tax rate for the federal government was 35%.
[00:02:45] Jesse Tyler: Yeah.
[00:02:45] Tony Mangini: And I'm like, are you telling me we could stop paying 35% tax every year if we do this? Oh, really? And so I went from a, that pessimist that, the, all the negative, the bad words that you always say about people that are anti-ESOP. That was me! And it wasn't because I didn't want it to [work] - I wanted my job to continue. I was worried it was going to destroy us. Well, if we can free up that cashflow that's going to the federal government and reinvest it into this program and let employees pay those taxes when they take their distribution, that's a win for everybody.
[00:03:15] And so, that's really when everything changed for me. I came back from that conference and I, like Bill, Bill at the time was really struggling with succession planning. I'm like, "Hey, Bill. I've got an idea!" And I invited him, there was a conference in Seattle like a month later. I said you should go with me to this conference and meet other people who've done this.
[00:03:34] And that's kind of what got this whole thing going. But yeah, that was my moment is being able to see that the ESOP could be a vehicle for positive things for the company.
[00:03:45] So, it balances out. The ESOP does a lot of great things for employees, but it's got to do something good for the company as well to make sense.
[00:03:51] Jesse Tyler: Yeah.
[00:03:51] Tony Mangini: And so, we used the ESOP, after we did the transaction, and that's how we bought our building we're in today. The building I told you about we built in 2019. We don't have it without the ESOP. Because the cashflow that we were able to see by changing from a C corp to an S corp and avoiding paying corporate tax, or I shouldn't say avoiding, deferring it to a future date. It gives us the ability cashflow-wise to make investments into our company and the employees get to share in the stock distribution.
[00:04:20] And so, it finally brought balance to the equation. And that's why I was a pessimist is because it was really just one sided, but now that it was benefiting NRS too, it was a win-win for everybody.
[00:04:30] And so that was really what changed things for me.
[00:04:32] Jesse Tyler: That's great. I appreciate you sharing that insight. And if it helps for listeners, Tony, I talk about the S corp and the status pretty early on talking about ownership. So, okay.
[00:04:43] So, we figure it's going to take three to five years for you to really get your hands around this. That's okay, it took us that time too, but I want you to think about that in a time when a government that is set up with two parties to, to disagree and hold each other accountable, there's some elevated historical disagreement. But even in these times, people are reaching across the aisle if it comes to employee ownership because if we are the S-corps, we're a hundred percent, we are healthier, wealthier, and everybody benefits, including the tax system in the long run.
[00:05:16] Bret Keisling: I hope you'll check out Episode 59 of the Owner to Owner podcast, featuring Tony Mangini and two colleagues from NRS. It's a great conversation. You'll hear two more EO A-ha Moments from Tony's colleagues in a great conversation about why being employee owners is so meaningful to them.
[00:05:41] This is Bret Keisling. Be well.
[00:05:43] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you! You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter [X] @EsOpPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network. 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 cannot guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.