In ESOP Mini-cast Episode 41, we welcome back Matt Cropp, Co-Executive Director at Vermont Employee Ownership Center. We sat down with him at the end of a very successful #VEOC19 -- the 17th Annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference in Burlington, Vermont. We share some conference highlights and discuss the year-round work at the VEOC.
If you'd like to hear more, check out The ESOP Podcast Episode 37 - "ESOPs, Co-ops, and Bernie Sanders at the Vermont Employee Ownership Conference."
Mini-cast 41 Transcript
Brian Keisling: 00:04 Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast brought to you by Capital Trustees. A great way to wrap up the week.
Brian Keisling: 00:22 Hi, everybody and welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast. This is Brian Kiesling and I am here with Matt Cropp who is the Co-executive Director of the VEOC, and we're at the Vermont Employee Ownership Conference. Hi Matt. How are you?
Matt Cropp: 00:35 Good, good.
Brian Keisling: 00:36 How are you feeling? We're at the end of this conference. It was a busy day.
Matt Cropp: 00:40 Yeah, yeah, you know, it's always a little fuzzy after a full day of events. But it felt like things went really well and feeling happy with the outcome.
Brian Keisling: 00:48 Yeah. Well I, I can tell you as a sort of participant in the conference, it was really successful as far as I'm concerned. Really, really interesting content, really interesting people who are here. And I think you did a great job.
Matt Cropp: 01:02 Thank you.
Brian Keisling: 01:03 So what sort of went into preparing for this conference? What was your goals as a today unfolded and how do you feel it went overall?
Matt Cropp: 01:11 Yeah, so this is the 17th year doing it. So it's one of those things where it's you - we've got a rhythm and then you tweak it as each year as it goes. But really we come into this, this conference, with a couple of goals you've got, you know, the folks who are coming in who are exploring employee ownership and you want them to come away with some good materials, some good information, but also some good relationships and contacts with people who are doing employee ownership. And of course the other folks from the mature established employee owned companies who are networking and learning how to better do ESOP committees, better do, you know, worker co- op member kind of relations, that sort of thing. And then you've got the folks from kind of the new ESOP companies. We had one that sent 30 people that just turned ESOP this year, who, you know, it's a great opportunity for them to kind of be welcomed into the local employee ownership community
Brian Keisling: 01:57 For sure. So in our experience coming to conferences with The ESOP Podcast, obviously with ESOP in the name, we're usually at conferences that pretty much cater exclusively to ESOPs and are attended by ESOP companies and ESOP professionals. Do you find that by approaching both ESOPs and Co -ops, is it a natural thing for the conference to involve both of them? Do you have any difficulty with making sure that you've got content for each of them, or how does that work?
Matt Cropp: 02:29 Yeah, so I mean, we, you know, we see our mission as promoting broad based employee ownership, which is an umbrella under which both of those models comfortably fit. So certainly there's, you know, we need to kind of balance the needs and, you know, number of sessions and things that really make sense for, you know, the ESOP people who are coming , the worker co-op people who are coming. But I think it's also, there's a lot of benefit because each model has certain elements that others can learn from. And so you can kind of have sessions that, you know, that might be, tend to be, you know, would have only showed up at a worker co-op conference, but say ESOP people could attend and kind of learn, say, about sociocracy or, you know, all the work that ESOP companies do with their ESOP communications committee is that there's a lot of lessons worker co-op people can learn. So I think it's, even though those communities have their own distinct cultures, it's a great thing for them to be together and learning from each other.
Brian Keisling: 03:22 I completely agree. And you know, there, there were presentations that I attended that just simply weren't things that you would usually find at an ESOP-only conference, but the information that was there in terms of the culture of a company or different ways that you can approach management, I attended the sociocracy session and that was fascinating to me. It's absolutely stuff that people in ESOP world can learn from people in co-op world and vice versa. And they're just a really natural fit under that employee ownership umbrella. So I also noticed that at the lunch today we had a couple representatives from different members of Congress. There was Senator [Patrick] Leahy, he sent someone, Congressman [Peter] Welch sent somebody and [Senator] Bernie Sanders recorded a video that he sent in. It seems like the VEOC gets a lot of support from elected representatives.
Matt Cropp: 04:20 Yeah. We have, I feel like, a pretty solid place in the, in the Vermont economic development world. Right. So we get state support. You know, we've had support, as was mentioned, Leahy got us some of the early startup funds, you know, Bernie got us some, our revolving loan fund that we can use to support conversion deals. Yeah, I think especially as like an aging rural northern New England state, you know, the, the question of business succession is a big one with our demographics. And so the employee ownership really I think has been perceived by a lot of players here as fitting in as a key part of the solution to what's seen, I think, demographically and otherwise as something of a crisis.
Brian Keisling: 05:00 So to wrap up, as the conference comes to a close today, what does the year following the conference look like for the VEOC? Cause you do a lot more than just this one day.
Matt Cropp: 05:12 Well, we're gonna, after we've finished processing all the evaluations, and we do an annual board retreat at the end of the month. That's really a chance to think big picture and a map out the year to come. Then our kind of annual cycle looks like, yeah... Things are somewhat quiet over the summer. We don't get many nice months in Vermont where it's beautiful out. So, people take advantage of that. It's hard to get meetings. So when September rolls around things kind of get rolling again. But definitely do a lot of, a lot of activity around Employee Ownership Month. And then also we do a series of seminars around the state where we reach out to business owners who are thinking about ownership succession and partner with local professionals to offer an opportunity to come in and get kind of a crash course in how to think about preparing your business for succession and how different paths work, including employee ownership. So it's a way that we can make sure we're having those conversations and that employee ownership is on the menu. And then by the time we're kind of through that and our annual meeting, it's the next conference will be on the horizon. So, yeah.
Brian Keisling: 06:12 Well, Matt, thank you very much for everything that you and VEOC does for employee ownership, both ESOPs and co-ops. It's really important work and we're big supporters of what it is you're doing. And congrats on such an incredible conference because the energy here was just spot on and the sessions were great and I hope that you're all pleased with how it went because it was incredibly valuable for those of us who attended.
Matt Cropp: 06:35 Well, thank you so much for coming and really appreciate the feedback and the conversation.
Brian Keisling: 06:41 Excellent. So we just chatted with Matt Cropp, the Co-Executive Director of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center, and we will be back on Tuesday with a very special episode of The ESOP podcast. So we hope everybody has a good weekend and we will see you again on Tuesday. Bye, everybody.