Dawn Huston, 31, started working at Dansko 11 years ago, sorting shoes for delivery. Now a warehouse processor, she said the idea of owning a piece of the company made her nervous at first—though she wasn’t worried about her retirement savings, since the company offers a separate 401(k) plan. Over the past year, she’s begun referring to Dansko as “our company.”
A family business goes to the family, right? Well, sometimes. And if passing the biz on to family is not an option, you can always look at an outside buyer … or an ‘inside” buyer too. Would your employees be good candidates for ownership?
When all is said and done, the only ones who know and care enough about the company may just be your employees. Sound intriguing? If yes, then you need to explore a win-win means through which your employees can become owners.
Have you ever heard of an Employee Stock-Ownership Plan, or ESOP?
ESOPs have been growing in popularity, especially when the market was down and outside buyers were scarce. That said, their popularity has not waned, although ESOPS can be a strange and complicated breed.
Essentially, an ESOP mixes a family exit strategy with a company retirement plan. There is a great deal to it with many layers of protection regarding the operations and management of the business.
Of course, there are some that are wary of the ESOP model. MarketWatch recently featured the ESOP and some criticisms of the approach in an article titled “When founder cash out, do workers lose?” Some of the criticisms are broad generalizations, especially as to the topic of valuation. Other criticisms are well taken.
As the article points out, this does affect the employees by opening them up to some of the risks of actual ownership. Is this a good thing? It can mean a whole new kind of motivation and source of innovation, as many have experienced, but it can also become a tricky game of all-your-eggs-in-one-basket for employees-turned-owners. There is a reason some people have the mettle to be owners and others are content to be employees.
From success stories to criticisms there are many voices talking about the ESOP. The original article is worth reading for due diligence purposes if you are on the employee side of the table. Regardless, an ESOP can be a very special tool for all parties at the table and one worth understanding and, just maybe, putting into force.
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Reference: MarketWatch (May 17, 2013) “When founder cash out, do workers lose?”