2014 Annual Conference Held

The 12th annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference was held on Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont. 

Close to 160 attendees hear keynoter Joseph Blasi, Professor at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations, speak on themes from his new book, The Citizen's Share: Puttiing Ownership Back into Democracy.  Joseph has written more than 14 books on worker ownership over a career spanning 40 years of research and teaching in the area.  His new book, The Citizen's Share (Yale University Press, 2013), co-authored with Richard Freeman of Harvard and Douglas Kruse of Rutgers, was described by one reviewer as “a model of sober scholarly analysis and impassioned political advocacy… a book on economic policy that might make the Founding Fathers smile.”

About the Event

The full-day conference is an annual event designed for those who want to investigate employee ownership for their business, as well as those who work in established employee-owned companies.  Nationally-known presenters join forces with representatives of Vermont's employee-owned companies to offer a comprehensive look at the ideals and the real world of employee ownership.  This year's edition featured:
  • 15 workshops, with tracks for newcomers and those from established employee-owned companies.
  • An afternoon plenary featuring a panel discussion about the difference employee ownership makes in the day-to-day experience of employees.
  • Information sharing and networking. This year's conference drew dozens of representatives from Vermont's employee-owned companies who happily shared with newcomers how they made the transition to employee ownership and have navigated the challenges along the way.






8:30 to 9:30 -- MORNING PLENARY

Keynote address -- The Citizen's Share: Putting Ownership Back Into Democracy

Joseph Blasi, Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations


Workshop Interest Area Legend

NEWCOMERS Anyone new to employee ownership
ESOP EE Those who work in companies with an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan)
ESOP L ESOP company leaders
CO-OP Those who work in worker co-ops or are interested in this form of employee ownership
ALL Everyone!


9:45 to 11:00 -- WORKSHOPS, SESSION A


1. Introduction to Employee Ownership

Warren Bingham, Navigate Consulting; Don Jamison, Vermont Employee Ownership Center; Dunbar Oehmig, Red House

This is the place to start if you want to learn the basics about employee ownership: the reasons for considering it, the basic structures, and the ways to implement it. You’ll learn about the two most common forms of employee ownership – Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) and worker cooperatives, and discover which structure might work best for your company. This year, we will hear from a founder of Equal Exchange, one of the most successful worker co-ops in the country, and learn how the owners of a Vermont-based manufacturing company recently decided to sell a majority interest in the company to an ESOP.



2. Worker Co-op Successes and Challenges: A Roundtable for Established Co-ops

Adam Trott, Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, facilitator

How do worker co-ops identify challenges and opportunities for success? How do co-ops encourage member participation to address them? This session will explore these practices in established, successful co-ops and the secondary support co-ops they create. After attendees share what their co-ops do in these areas, the facilitator will present useful models attendees can take to their co-ops with the goals of maximizing member participation, encouraging positive ownership practices and establishing good working knowledge of their co-op’s structure and governance.



3. More Fertile Fields: A Conversation on Ways of Creating More Employee Ownership in Vermont

Steve Magowan, Sunrise Management Services, and Paul Millman, Chroma Technology, conversation facilitators; with Victor Aspengren, Prairie Capital Advisors, and Joseph Blasi, Rutgers University

This session will begin with news of efforts in other states, especially Iowa, to increase the number of employee-owned companies.  The VEOC’s board has recently embraced the goal of helping Vermont become the most employee-ownership-friendly state in the country.  We’re hoping that participants in this session will come up with concrete steps toward that audacious goal!



4. The Employee Experience: Making Sense of the Clues of Culture

Linshuang Lu, Praxis Consulting Group

Many ESOP companies hope to build or sustain a culture where employees think and act like owners. Come to this interactive session to explore how employees learn the culture of a company and discuss how companies can use this knowledge to actively build an ownership culture.



5. Hot Topics for Established ESOP Companies

Barbara Clough, Blue Ridge ESOP Associates; Kjersti Cory, Bankers Trust Company; Rob Edwards, Steiker, Fischer, Edwards & Greenapple; John Murphy, Atlantic Management Company

Join our panel of experts who will discuss hot and trending topics such as the latest updates from the Supreme Court relative to the Moench presumption, DOL investigations, regulatory guidance requested from the IRS, control premiums, valuation issues and current transaction trends.  Hot topics from the valuation and financing world will include discussions regarding inside loan terms and senior debt vs. seller financing.  Come to this session to learn more about these topics and other new developments!



11:15 to 12:30 -- WORKSHOPS, SESSION B


6. A 100% ESOP Transaction from Soup to Nuts

Merri Ash, First Bankers Trust Services; Chuck Coyne, Empire Valuation Consultants; Tabitha Croscut, Steiker, Fischer, Edwards & Greenapple

You may have heard about the advantages and possible pitfalls of a 100% ESOP transaction. This unique session will feature a complete walk-through of a company that just completed a 0% to 100% ESOP stock purchase transaction. This dynamic discussion will provide an overview of the process, including the reasons an ESOP was chosen, transaction design, fiduciary considerations for trustees, negotiations and closing in a complex but fairly typical deal.



7. Sharing Entrepenurship: Converting an Established Business into a Worker Cooperative

Betsy Black, Cooperative Fund of New England; Rob Brown, Cooperative Development Institute; Joe Rinehart, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives; Adam Trott, Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives

This workshop will provide business owners and leaders with key tools for preparing a business to convert successfully into a worker co-op, and will provide an overview of the advantages, challenges and steps in that process.



8. Deep Participation: Cultivating a Culture of Collaboration

Cecile Green, Round Sky Solutions, moderator, with Cecile Betit, independent researcher; Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange; Dave Fitz-Gerald, Carris Reels

Creating a culture of meaningful collaboration takes some serious effort and a willingness to experiment.  What does such a culture look like and how do you get there?  We will hear about efforts to build more participatory workplaces – including what has worked well and not so well – at two very different employee-owned companies, Equal Exchange, a worker cooperative in the Fair Trade food industry, and Carris Reels, a 100% ESOP-owned manufacturing company.  You can expect to come away from this session with a better sense of what a collaborative culture is, and ideas on how to foster one at your company.



9. The ESOP Education Bucket List – Recruitment through Retirement

Victor Aspengren, Prairie Capital Advisors; Missy McManigle, Walman Optical

What comes first for new hires? Employee ownership, ESOP education, financial literacy, personal goals, job training, etc. What is the best way to move a new employee to becoming an employee owner? This is a new perspective on the methods to the madness! A CD of education materials and examples gathered from employee-owned companies in Minnesota and the Dakotas will be distributed at the end of the presentation.



10. Management Incentive Plans for ESOP Companies

John Bentas and Beth Fowler, McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton; Joe Marx, Principal Financial Group

This session will provide an overview of typical executive benefit packages and arrangements in ESOP companies.  We will review tax, legal and regulatory considerations, including anti-abuse regulations in Code sections 409(p) and 409A, and will take into account corporate and executive goals and objectives. You will gain perspectives and share ideas with other ESOP companies about the various ways to incentivize executives in the ESOP context and what works best.



12:30 to 1:30 -- LUNCH


1:30 to 2:45 -- WORKSHOPS, SESSION C


11. Basics of Valuation and Financing for Ownership Succession

Don Baker and Mat Robitaille, KeyBank; John Murphy, Atlantic Management Company

In this session, we will learn the basics of how valuators determine the value of privately-held companies, and how lenders evaluate loan applications for transfers of ownership.  This session will be valuable to anyone considering ownership succession for their company – or anyone who wants to better understand how valuators and bankers think!



12. Laying Strong Foundations: Stories from New and Established Worker Co-ops

Joe Rinehart, U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, moderator; panelists – Rink Dickinson, Equal Exchange; Kristen Howard, Real Pickles; Dunbar Oehmig, Red House

This panel will feature worker owners from both new and mature worker cooperatives discussing strategies for cooperative success.  The panelists will discuss the structures in their cooperatives that allow their businesses to thrive.  The focus will be on bringing on new members, systems for democratic governance and participatory management that position worker cooperatives to be great businesses, and ways cooperatives can support and encourage growth and entrepreneurial activity.  



13. Employee Engagement and the Ownership Mindset

Tom Bouwer, ProfitWorks LLC; Carey Chen, Hypertherm

Employees certainly don’t lack the interest or capacity to contribute more meaningfully at work.  In many cases, though, they simply haven’t received the tools, training or inspiration they need to begin thinking and acting like owners.  As important, poorly functioning leadership teams often cause major credibility gaps that erode trust and damage initiatives designed to create an engaged culture.  Participants will learn effective ways of sharing financial information and fostering habits of focus, improvement and fun.



14. Meetings Matter: Designing and Facilitating an Effective Meeting

Linshuang Lu, Praxis Consulting Group

Good meetings are essential for facilitating engagement and participatory decision-making at employee-owned and cooperative workplaces. This session provides practical theories and skills for facilitating good meetings.



15. How Does the Board of Directors of an Employee-Owned Company Create Value?

Peter Paquette, Tarndale LLC

If a company is to remain employee-owned for the long haul, with a culture that is about more than just profit, the Board of Directors needs to carefully consider its standard of value.  What is the appropriate yardstick for measuring success?  This workshop will begin with a review of the duties of Boards of Directors and the usual definition of shareholder value.  We will then consider a new way of thinking about value in employee-owned companies that is both consistent with the law and more appropriate for companies that intend to remain employee-owned.  This is a controversial subject, and we expect – and will encourage – a lively discussion!




Our closing plenary will feature a panel discussion on "Employee Ownership in the Workplace: What Difference Does It Make, Really?"




Regular attendees can register here.  Presenters and sponsors will be sent special instructions.