The Beyster Institute and NCEO Host 2010 Annual Employee Ownership Conference

By Claire Dobransky and James Colligan

Annual Employee Ownership Conference

The Beyster Institute and the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) hosted the 2010 Annual Employee Ownership Conference in Minneapolis, Minn. from April 19 to April 22. This year’s conference marked high 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 conference covered topics related to the foundation, execution and maintenance of employee ownership programs. It included over 65 breakout sessions covering the accounting, financial, legal and cultural implications of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP) and related equity ownership vehicles. Sessions covered 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.

The conference emphasized 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 highlight of the conference was a never before seen panel of retirees from ESOP companies who told their personal success stories. 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. She was able to help fund her grandchildren’s education and she retired 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.

Dobransky and Colligan, both recent Rady MBA grads, have been associates at the Beyster Institute for nearly a year and attended the conference for the first time this year. They learned about the Beyster Institute and 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 the roles of ESOPs and other equity-sharing vehicles in empowering and building the personal wealth of employees.