Beyster Institute and NCEO Host 2010 Annual Employee Ownership Conference

By Claire Dobransky and James Colligan

conference participants

The Beyster Institute and the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) hosted the 2010 Annual Employee Ownership Conference in Minneapolis, Minn. from April 19-22. This year’s conference had excellent attendance, with 814 participants, 35 exhibitors and more than 100 presenters and panelists. Attendees ranged from seasoned ESOP executives, experts and professional service providers to owners of small companies interested in the possibility of employee ownership for their firms.

The authors, both recent Rady MBA grads, worked as associates at the Beyster Institute for nearly a year. We were able to attend the conference for the first time this year and were very excited to explore the many facets of the employee ownership community. We were exposed to the Beyster Institute and the world of employee ownership through an elective at the Rady School called Techniques of Equity Compensation, taught by Anthony Mathews, director of the Beyster Institute. Mathews’ course teaches exactly what the Beyster Institute employs: the roles of employee stock ownership plans (ESOP) and other equity-sharing vehicles in empowering and building the personal wealth of employees. Ultimately, we both pursued associate internships with the Beyster Institute and began modeling valuations of client companies’ and potential ESOP scenarios. Just when we thought we’d begun to grasp this conceptual beast called “employee ownership,” the national Conference came along and showed us how very little we know.

What impressed us the most was the breadth and depth of topics covered, all relevant to the foundation, execution and maintenance of employee ownership programs. The conference included more than 65 breakout sessions covering the accounting, financial, legal and cultural implications of ESOPs and related equity ownership vehicles. Examples of such sessions include How to Set up Effective Teams and Participation in an Employee-Owned Company; Corporate Governance in the ESOP Company; and Valuation of Stock for Sale to an ESOP. Session panels were comprised of heavy-hitting experts in multiple ESOP fields and well-known pioneers in the employee ownership community. Participants could even follow specialized learning tracks such as ESOP Basics or New Management Ideas and Insights.

Perhaps the largest understanding we took away from the conference is how integral and deeply rooted a culture of employee ownership is in successful ESOP companies. Compared to a 401(k) plan, for example, which can be implemented and allowed simply to run, a successful ESOP requires buy-in from employees and management that their efforts will have direct and meaningful impact on the value of their company. To this end, the conference provided numerous offerings on cultivating cultures of impactful ownership.

One of our biggest highlights of the conference was a never-before-seen panel of retirees from ESOP companies who told of their personal successes in the presentation Employee Ownership Changes Lives: The Seldom-Told Part of the ESOP Story. The panel featured retirees discussing their lives during their careers, as well as in retirement. One panelist recalled the engagement and excitement she experienced working for an employee-owned company and the remarkable dedication and loyalty she felt toward the organization. Another retiree discussed the benefits she enjoyed after retirement that would have been impossible working for a traditional company: helping to fund her grandchildren�s education and retiring to a dream house. The stories illustrated the human side of employee ownership and inspired audience members to consider the personal implications of ESOPs on workers’ lives. The experience certainly helped us understand what our work at the Beyster Institute can ultimately achieve for our clients.

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