GUEST POST: Starting a Movement! Employee Owners of Vermont Impacting our Communities

Guest Post By Hallam-ICS CEO Keith Flaherty

In early January, I was sitting at my desk and decided to send out an email.  I love to run, and on several recent outings my brain kept coming back to the same question:

How can we bring local employee owned companies together to impact our communities?

You see, Hallam-ICS has been an ESOP since 2000 and 100% employee-owned since 2015.  Like other employee owned companies, Hallam-ICS is committed not only to sharing the company’s wealth with our employees, but also with our communities, through a strong Social Mission of supporting children and families in the communities where we live and work.

Hallam-ICS is not unique in our community involvement.  Whether competing against Switchback Brewing in the Howard Curling Center Classic or Sleeping Out with PC Construction to support Spectrum Youth and Family Services, or viewing Harpoon Brewery’s Harpoon Helps program, it seems that employee-owned companies are at the forefront of businesses leading change.

According to the Certified EO website, employee-owned companies represent over 1,500,000 employees from more than 6,000 companies with a combined revenue of $200 billion!  We are many, but our story is not well known. The idea of employee owners embracing their commonality and working together is something that kept coming back to me as a way to spread the word about employee ownership and doing “good” in our communities at the same time.

So, back to the email.

I decided to reach out to other employee-owned companies in Chittenden County, including PC Construction, Switchback, Gardener’s Supply, Vermont Information Processing, and Heritage Aviation, along with the Vermont Employee Ownership Center (VEOC).  Here’s a condensed version:

Hello fellow ESOP leaders!

I’m reaching out to you as a group to get your thoughts on idea I’ve been kicking around for a while.

I was thinking that a great way to promote the ESOP concept would be to band together our efforts for local fundraising in our community.  We would get the double benefit of helping local organizations (the first priority!), but also getting the word out that ESOPs are good for employees, their communities and business in general.

The response was positive and we decided to meet to discuss the concept.  There was enough energy and interest to continue our discussions by finalizing a mission for the group.  We came up with four major themes (along with having fun!) to focus on:

  • Education to grow community awareness and understanding of employee ownership to create a higher value in the eyes of employees and consumers.
  • Developing relationships and support across Vermont employee-owned companies.
  • Increasing engagement of our employee owners
    Positively impacting our communities\

We identified Community Service activities as the “vehicle” that would drive the progress of each of the goals identified above.

We have continued to meet and share ideas for moving this effort forward.  Our next steps are two-fold:

Build an “employee ownership community” through community service

Our first joint event is one that Gardener’s Supply has been actively involved in.  On April 28, our employee owners will come together to work side-by-side at the Vermont Community Garden Network’s Day in the Dirt.

Our next planned event (hopefully there will be others before then) will be during Employee Ownership Month (October).  We will have a friendly competition between employee-owned companies in the form of a Food Drive to support local food shelters.

Work together to spread the word about employee ownership

Our marketing teams will join forces to brainstorm how to promote employee ownership.  We’ve started to co-promote our activities on social media and will look to other media channels to share what we are doing and how others can get involved.

I’m glad that I sent out that email in January, as it’s given me a chance to meet with other like-minded individuals who share a passion for employee ownership.  John Heywood’s quote “many hands make light work” applies to our efforts in multiple ways: educating about the benefits of employee ownership, engaging our employees and, most importantly, impacting our communities.

We’ve chosen to call our group “Employee Owners of Vermont.”  Our plan was not to promote any individual company, but rather to represent employee owners as a community that is connected in our common beliefs.  And, while our initial members are all from Chittenden County, we hope to spread this collaboration to include all employee-owned companies in Vermont later this year after we have developed a solid foundation for the group and have experienced success together through our joint efforts.

Keith Flaherty is a native Vermonter who has lived and worked in Vermont for the past 50 years. He is a graduate from the University of Vermont with a BSEE and an MBA. He joined Hallam-ICS in 1988 after graduating from college and has served in numerous positions for the company over his 30 years of employment, including President and CEO since 2001.