No one can predict how the pandemic will play out in the next few months or year or two. Historically, EO companies fare better during turbulent economic times. Bret Keisling looks at the interplay between culture and value.
The excerpt featured in today's mini-cast was originally aired on September 13, 2019 as part of Mini-cast 51: Health, Wellness, and Shareholder Value.
Mini-cast 88 Transcript
Announcer: Welcome to The ESOP Mini-cast, a great way to wrap up the week.
Bret Keisling: Hello, my friends. Thank you for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. As we release this episode on Friday, June 26th, 2020, the United States has surpassed 125,000 deaths from the coronavirus. While some parts of the country, including the Northeast, are easing restrictions and allowing its citizens to take the first uneasy steps back to quote unquote normalcy. Approximately thirty states are now increasing restrictions. For example, as I prepared to record this episode, Texas has just announced that bars will no longer be open during the pandemic. In states where governors seem hesitant to issue statewide mandates, some, like Arizona are now empowering local governments to set their own rules. I think it's tragic that many of the aspects of the pandemic seem to be reduced to political calculations where even wearing a mask or not is viewed as a political statement.
Bret Keisling: Since there's so much uncertainty about the short term and medium term future of our country from health and economic perspectives, it's very difficult to try and guess what employee ownership or business generally will look like in three, six, or twelve months. But the fundamentals of employee ownership are ideally suited to address many of the issues we're collectively facing. So today I'm going to go back to our archives for a brief look at the interplay between ESOP valuations and the health and wellness of its employee owners. This is an excerpt from Episode 51 of the ESOP Mini-cast and you can find this entire episode as well as the more than 200 archived episodes at theESOPpodcast.com. Here's a clip that originally aired in September of 2019.
Bret Keisling: With the exception of certain specifics related to ESOPs, ESOP company valuations are generally performed in the same manner as non-ESOP companies. I understand this, certainly not arguing against it. However, some of the most important issues that make ESOPs what they are, are often, if not usually, overlooked from a valuation perspective. I don't mean overlooked in the sense that the valuation expert wasn't thorough, but rather we don't have a system of best practices necessary to quantify some of the things that I'm talking about. So, for example, one of the facts about ESOPs that many of us often share is that in times of economic slowdown, ESOPs are significantly less likely to lay off staff or cut salaries. Everybody understands in the valuation field that the company has the ability to decide staffing and salary levels at any time, let alone in a downturn, certainly adding staff on when times are good.
Bret Keisling: There is an academic discussion in the ESOP world, however, that considers whether a failure to reduce staff or salary would result in a lower share value and whether that's appropriate in an employee owned company. This is a flip side of an argument that you feel strong businesses is coming, so you add 10% additional workers. Well, if it's speculated, have you affected share value? Perhaps you have, but that doesn't make an inappropriate. This academic discussion also overlooks the positive aspects of decisions like that. For example, we assume that the ESOP company's strength during the downturn of keeping their team together and not reducing salary is going to add to a more satisfied, fulfilled workforce, increase company loyalty, and it will help the longevity of the workforce. It's easy to quantify the loss of value when you consider we could've laid off people and didn't. It's much harder to quantify the increase in value as a result of the same decision. People's job satisfaction, wanting them to stick around longer with the companies.
Bret Keisling: We've spoken frequently on the podcast about the importance of health and wellness programs at ESOP companies. My view has been, and I repeat it now, that health and wellness programs are directly tied to the bottom line. If you have a happier well adjusted staff who likes their jobs and likes going to work, that does in fact create value. I look at it as another critical management tool and a great way to help get the best out of your workforce. An ESOP or other EO company has the ability to make health and wellbeing of the employee owners a priority and within reason that prioritization should not be looked at as an expendable perk. The reality is more and more people enter the workforce with a myriad of physical, emotional, mental health, addiction issues, chronic illnesses, et cetera, and all of those things that are in every part of society. Simple ways to help employees manage their health and wellness will result ultimately in a more profitable company. And here when I talk about their own health and wellness, physical, mental health, wellbeing, I mean in their family unit.
Bret Keisling: So, for example, everyone understands the opioid addiction is at critical stages in the United States. Well, it's easier for us to look about what if an employee owner has an addiction. But frankly, if a talented member of your team or any member of your team has a child, a sibling, a parent, a relative, a friend, a neighbor, anyone at all who is going through an opioid or any other addiction, their job, they're not going to be focused, understandably, on how to do their jobs best at all times. If we provide tools that may help them deal, either with their own problems or help them better able to assist those in their lives
Bret Keisling: Another reason why programs are a good idea, the insurance companies. They offer discounts on coverage if people take classes or start or stop certain behaviors. Companies often have weight loss contests, for example. Obviously, these insurance companies promote these programs among client businesses as a way to reduce premiums. It seems to me that almost every medical premium paid also includes a loss of time at work. So if the companies, regardless of their insurers promoted the same programs leading to a healthier and happier workforce, company disruptions will be minimized., people will be able to focus better on their jobs, and I'd argue that employee owners who love their jobs more will automatically just put more into it and that will lead to an increase in value. Again, it's stuff we talk about all the time. Happier workforce, more productive, more profitable. That's why we work so much on culture.
Bret Keisling:That clip was from Episode 51 of the ESOP Mini-cast, which again is available with all of our archived episodes at theESOPpodcast.com. Even though it seems like the pandemic has been going on a very, very long time, we first started hearing reports about the coronavirus approximately five months ago, the very sad fact is that it's way too early in its cycle to know what permanent effects there's going to be on business generally and employee owned businesses specifically, but there can be no doubt that the effects are going to be dramatic and far-reaching. Thank you very much for joining us today. I hope you'll be back next week for The EO/ESOP Podcast. We are all in this together. We're going to get through it together. Take care of yourself and those around you. This is Bret. Keisling have a good day.
Bitsy McCann: 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 Temi, 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.