By Dallan Guzinski
As the nation’s premiere gathering on employee ownership, the annual Employee Ownership Conference provides an ideal opportunity to learn, network, and share your knowledge and experiences with experts and leaders within the community. In 2017, the conference will take place in downtown Denver, Colo., from April 4-6 with preconference sessions on April 3. The Beyster Institute is again a major sponsor of the 2017 conference, and the meeting promises to build on the sold-out success of the National Center for Employee Ownership’s (NCEO) 2016 event, where more than 1,660 attendees filled the Minneapolis Convention Center for a number of structured and unstructured learning and networking opportunities.
The conference is organized into five tracks with offerings for newcomers and veterans alike. Sessions will include technical and nontechnical topics and will engage anyone interested or already involved in employee ownership and equity sharing, including company executives and directors, employee owners, human resources professionals, managers, investors, board members, and professional service providers, among others.
This year’s keynote address, David vs. Goliath: Employee Ownership as a Competitive Advantage When Your Company is Not a Corporate Giant, is unlike any before it. The NCEO has put together an exciting panel of leaders this time around featuring Suzanne McDowell from King Arthur Flour; Lars Wulff from Mud Bay; and Joe Phelps from Phelps Marketing and Communications Strategies; with Halisi Vinson of the Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center serving as this year’s panel moderator. They will discuss how to fully leverage your employee ownership structure and what can make your company so different from the competition.
More thought-provoking breakout sessions than ever before will be included along with five intensive half-day preconference sessions, all of which explore a variety of critical issues, emerging trends, and cutting-edge innovations in employee ownership. Many of the sessions also will include a wide range of practical case studies, communication strategies, and management tips as well as more technical, financial, and legal matters. The conference is designed for attendees with various levels of expertise and will cover the basics on topics like valuation, plan design, new and second-stage transactions, governance and fiduciary issues, effective communication, projecting and managing the repurchase obligation, and trends in financing.
Each attendee can create the curriculum that suits them best. These presentations and lectures are often interactive and feature hundreds of top employee ownership experts, experienced leaders, and peers from successful employee-owned companies. For those new to employee ownership or attendees who want to brush up on some of the basics, you will find sessions like, Is an ESOP Right for You?, Basics of ESOP Communications, Valuation: What is it and How is it Done?, Understanding the Basics of ESOP Fiduciary Issues, or Introduction to Business Literacy and Open Book Management. The meeting will also include presentations on more advanced issues, such as Department of Labor Investigations: What to Expect and How to Prepare, Protecting Yourself from Legal Problems: Audits, Lawsuits, & Insurance Issues, Management Compensation Strategies for ESOP Companies, and sessions on alternatives to ESOPs like Employee Ownership Trusts or The Profit Sharing/EIAP Plan Alternative.
Brand new content and sessions in every track will be included, such as sessions like You’re Not Doing That Thing You Think You’re Doing in the Leadership and Governance track presented by Amanda DeVito, vice president of engagement at employee-owned Butler/Till, and Dallan Guzinski, director of culture and engagement at the NCEO. Amanda and Dallan will be discussing an important question for leaders, board members, and even ESOP committees to consider when building a culture of ownership: You may think that you and your team are working hard to create a company environment where everyone feels like owners, but if employee owners don’t see it that way, are you really?
We might call this the “ownership culture blind spot.” The NCEO breaks down employee survey data in a number of ways for ESOP companies, looking at subgroup data concerning different locations, departments, and tenure, but one of the most interesting—and consistent—breakdowns is the difference between non-management and management perceptions of the culture. It can be easy to assume we are doing exactly what we mean or intend to, but unless we ask and create two-way communication with employees, it is impossible to know for sure. The first step in addressing the gaps in perception between management and non-management is acknowledging they exist, and asking people what they think will equip you with valuable input on the most important concerns of employee owners. By being aware of what may cause these differences in perception, we can better address employee concerns, and reducing these gaps between employee and supervisor almost always strengthens company cultures.
In addition to the wide array of sessions taking place, the conference will feature a limited number of preconference workshops Monday afternoon, April 3, preceding the regular sessions which begin the following day. The Beyster Institute will lead the "Corporate Governance at ESOP Companies" session from 1-5 p.m., featuring Martin Staubus, executive director; and Anthony Mathews, senior consultant. Discounts are available for this session. Please visit (https://www.nceo.org/secure/register.php) and enter code 17Save25PreCon.
For discussions like this and much more, we hope you will join us in Denver at the NCEO’s 2017 Employee Ownership Conference. For more information about the conference, registration, and hotels, please visit www.nceo.org/conference.
Dallan Guzinski, director of Culture and Engagement, NCEO