2015 Vermont Employee Ownership Conference to be held June 2 at St. Michael's College

News Story: 


We are currently at capacity for our venue.  Please write us at [email protected] if you would like to receive materials for particular sessions, or if you'd like to discuss any aspect of employee ownership.

The 13th Annual Vermont Employee Ownership Conference will be held this year on Tuesday, June 2 at St. Michael's College in Colchester!

General Registration Here (sponsor and presenter registration details will be sent by email).

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:

  • Morning Keynote from Steve Voigt on "Employee Ownership for the Long Haul."
  • 18 workshops, with tracks for newcomers and those from established employee-owned companies on such themes as leadership, culture, and worker cooperatives.
  • Information sharing and networking. Last 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: "Sustainable Employee Ownership: Lessons from King Arthur Flour"

Description: ​Drawing on 20 years working in and with ESOPs, Steve Voigt will paint alternate pictures of ESOP futures as well as lessons ESOPs have for organizational and community success more broadly. Which one wins out may depend on how we all do in our current organizations.

About the Speaker:  Steve Voigt was President and CEO of King Arthur® Flour from 1999 to 2014.  Hired in 1992 as Vice President of Finance, Steve became Chief Operating Officer in 1998. Prior to King Arthur Flour, Steve worked for Benedetto, Gartland & Greene in New York, where he raised private equity for venture, LBO and alternative asset funds.  During his tenure there, Steve also supported his wife in founding, and later selling, Robin’s Homemade Breads of Greenwich, CT.  He also consulted out of Zurich, Switzerland and Cleveland for McKinsey & Company.  Steve is a graduate of the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College, and Colgate University.  Steve serves on the boards of Newport Harbor Corporation, Vermont Mutual Insurance Company, Montshire Museum of Science, and Tuck’s Center for Business & Society. He has also been an active member of The ESOP Association serving on the Board of Governors from 2003-2009 and as its Chair and serves on the Vermont Health Care Innovation Project Core Team, and ReThink Health Upper Connecticut River Valley Steering Committee (where he is Executive Director currently).   
Workshop Area of Interest Legend:
NEWCOMERS Anyone new to employee ownership.
ESOP EE Anyone already working in an employee-owned company.
ESOP L Leaders of employee-owned companies
CO-OP Members of existing worker co-ops and those interested in creating them.




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

1. Bringing Employee Ownership to Your Company: An Introduction

Matt Cropp and Don Jamison, Vermont Employee Ownership Center; Dan Kenary, Harpoon Brewery; Ian Stewart, Vermont Computing Cooperative 

This is the place to start if you’re thinking about bringing employee ownership to your company.  We’ll explore the reasons for doing so, the basic structures, and the ways to implement them. 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 Harpoon Brewery about their new ESOP, and from one of the founding members of the Vermont Computing Cooperative, a new worker cooperative that recently bought out an established business.



2. Hot Topics for Established Worker Co-ops

Joe Marrafino, Democracy At Work Institute; Adam Trott, Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives, facilitators

What's the best way to run an election? Are there good strategies for compensating founding members? How do we communicate our co-op's culture to new members? These are just a few of the questions raised by members of the Green Mountain Worker Co-op Alliance in a recent questionnaire. In this session, the co-facilitators will poll the participants for additional topics, and then, drawing on both their own extensive experience and that of the co-op people in the room, delve into discussions of some of the most pressing (and often vexing) issues facing worker cooperators today.



3. Learning to Love the Numbers: Basics of Business for Employee Owners

Dave Fitz-Gerald, Carris Reels; Michael McGinley, Prairie Capital Advisors

This session will review the basics of financial statements and metrics for employees who don't have a business background.  Financial statements measure the profitability and cash flow of a business.  We will consider the effects on these statements when the company has an ESOP.  We will also take a look at a basic valuation report, another important way of measuring how your company is performing.  Learning the basic ideas behind these reports is fun! – and will help you understand the value drivers for your business and the effect you can have on at least some of them.



4. How an ESOP Works: An Employee-Eye View

Matt Hancock and Linshuang Lu, Praxis Consulting Group

This session uses a highly interactive role play format, with cash, stock, and other props, to illustrate how an ESOP works in simple and entertaining terms. We will cover why ESOPs are set up, how the ESOP buys stock and pays for it, the basic account rules (eligibility, contributions & allocations, vesting, and distributions), how the stock value is determined, and how employees' day to day actions drive growth, profits, and stock value, with significant time for attendees questions throughout.



5. Hot Topics for Established ESOPs

Barbara Clough, Blue Ridge ESOP Associates; Patrick De Craene, GreatBanc Trust Company; John Murphy, Atlantic Management Company

Join our panel of experts who will discuss hot and trending topics including a summary of the DOL Settlement Agreement which highlights the DOL’s hot list of “requested practices” relative to ESOP transactions.  Our presenters will also highlight valuation issues and current trends to keep your ESOP sustainable.  Come to this session to learn more about these topics and other new developments!



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

6. Structuring an ESOP Transaction from A to Z

Chuck Coyne, Empire Valuation Consultants; Tabitha Croscut, Steiker, Greenapple & Croscut

Want to learn more about the process and timing involved in an ESOP transaction?  This session will present the process for taking a company from 0% to 100% ESOP, using a timeline from feasibility through closing.  Drawing upon the example of a recent ESOP company transaction, the presenters will walk through the process from A to Z, including considerations of the company and the selling shareholders.  The conversation will also include a discussion of the impact of the Department of Labor’s recent GreatBanc Fiduciary Process Agreement and current best practices that are followed in completing an ESOP transaction.



7. Converting a Business to a Worker Co-op

Rob Brown, Cooperative Development Institute

Drawing on his experience with the recent high-profile conversion of the Island Employee Cooperative in Maine, presenter Rob Brown 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. Mentoring: Formal, Informal, Impactful

Cindy Osgood, King Arthur Flour; Sarah Scala, Sarah Scala Consulting; Mary Steiger, PT360

We will explore both formal and informal mentoring. Mentoring is one of the best ways to strengthen skills or to take a leadership role in developing future leaders or followers. Mentoring can also be very cost effective for organizations. Through interactive group activities and the sharing of best practices, this program will provide examples of mentoring successes with a strong return on investment.  Examples of King Arthur Flour's mentor program, along with New England and national companies will be shared.



9. The Effective ESOP Committee: How to Create One, How to Rejuvenate One

Matt Hancock, Praxis Consulting Group; Jane Moss, Hypertherm; Shay Totten, Chelsea Green Publishing

Looking to start an ESOP Committee or re-ignite engagement in an existing one?  Then this is the workshop for you.  In this interactive session, participants will learn about best practices from two companies with existing committees.  Through small-group break-out sessions, participants will learn from each other as they work together to develop strategies for launching their committees and achieving long-term engagement. 



10. Managing for the Long-Term: An Overview of ESOP Sustainability

Judy Kornfeld, ESOP Economics

Having an ESOP that thrives over the long-term requires attention to an array of business issues as well as ESOP practices. We’ll explore the drivers of sustainability, ranging from plan design and repurchase obligations to management succession planning and corporate governance.



12:30 to 1:30 - - LUNCH!

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

11. What I Wish I'd Known: Setting Up an ESOP for Success

Warren Bingham, Navigate Consulting; Patrick De Craene, GreatBanc Trust Company; Joe Marx, Principal Financial Group

When establishing a new ESOP, it’s important to look down the road and head off common problems that can arise, both administrative and cultural.  Beyond helping you simply avoid trouble or unanticipated consequences, our presenters will share lessons they’ve learned on how to make the ESOP a success for all parties involved.



12. Capital for Cooperatives

Betsy Black, Cooperative Fund of New England; Adam Trott, Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives; Mike Pieciak, Vermont Department of Financial Regulation; Sarah Bauer, Merchants Bank.

When it comes to financing, the worker co-op model presents both unique challenges and opportunities. In this session, our expert panel will provide an overview of the co-op financing landscape and discuss a number of options available to cooperators, including equity crowdfunding, preferred stock, co-op to co-op mutual aid, and loans from co-op-focused CDFIs and community banks.



13. Your Voice Matters: Encouraging and Acting On Employee-Owners' Ideas

Linshuang Lu, Praxis Consulting Group

Hearing and responding to input, feedback and perspectives from employees can be a critical component of building trust and engaging employees to think, feel and act like owners. Yet poorly planned efforts can result in unproductive complaining or employees feeling frustrated because nothing happened as a result of their feedback. Come to this session to learn principles and ideas for effectively gathering and responding to employee feedback. Be prepared to share examples from your own companies and engage in discussion!



14. Communicating Ownership to Different Generations

Dave Fitz-Gerald, Carris Reels; Matt Hancock, Praxis Consulting Group

Your workforce landscape is constantly shifting.  Is your communication approach shifting along with it? Educating and communicating with your employees is a vital part of running a successful employee-owned enterprise.  The more employees understand their impact as owners, the more engaged they will be in the successful operation of the company.  How you reach employees is changing.  The need for relevant, engaging and real-time information is urgent. Are you meeting your employees where they want to be met?



15. Tools for ESOP Sustainability

Tabitha Croscut, Steiker, Greenapple & Croscut; Cecilia Loftus, Prairie Capital Advisors; John Murphy, Atlantic Management; Steve Voigt, formerly of King Arthur Flour

If an ESOP is intended to be a long-term benefit for any ESOP company, a variety of interests need to be balanced and certain dangers need to be headed off.  Panelists in this session will address three topics that should be considered in planning for long-term sustainability of an ESOP company: 1) protecting the company from unwanted, unsolicited third party takeover; 2) possible advantages to the benefit corporation structure for supporting long-term ESOP ownership; and 3) optimizing a company’s value trajectory to balance sustainability of the sponsoring company with value growth objectives of the ESOP.



3:00 to 4:15 - - WORKSHOPS, SESSION D

16. Building a Cooperative Economy

Adam Trott, Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives; Rob Brown, Cooperative Development Institute; Joe Marrafino, Democracy at Work Institute; Matt Hancock, Praxis Consulting

At its core, the cooperative model is a values-driven way of doing business that, in addition to improving the lives of individual employee owners, has the potential to transform the structure of the economy in ways that lead to deeper democracy and more broad-based ownership of wealth. In this session, the panelists, drawing on their diverse experiences in cooperative development, will be addressing three key questions: What does a cooperative economy look like? Why is it desirable? And How can we move effectively in that direction? This will be a great opportunity for discussing both strategy and tactics, and a subtantial portion of the session will be devoted to a Q&A with participants.



17. Foundations for a Culture of Ownership: Advice from Leading Participatory Companies

Dave Fitz-Gerald, Carris Reels; Cindy Turcot, Gardener’s Supply Company; Steve Voigt, formerly of King Arthur Flour

What’s the path to creating a workplace that engages employees in a deep and meaningful way?  Come hear leaders (and a former leader) of three of the most participatory ESOP-owned companies in the country discuss the development of their workplace cultures.  All three were present when the ESOP was first introduced, and will reflect on the practices and values that were already present in the culture at that point.  They will look back on innovations that furthered employees’ sense of engagement with the company, and maybe also share a few stories of initiatives that didn’t work so well! 



18. Who Will Lead Your Company?

Stephen Lawe, Resource Systems Group; Linshuang Lu, Praxis Consulting Group

Who will lead your company in the future – and are they ready?  This session will explore key ways that ESOP companies develop leaders and plan for successors at various levels of the organization in order to ensure a sustainable future.



4:15 to 5:00 - - CLOSING RECEPTION