Remembering Two Friends of Employee Ownership

by Don Jamison, VEOC Co-Founder and former Executive Director


When Bruce Seifer and Will Raap died recently, the VEOC lost two longtime friends. 

     Bruce played a key role in our organization’s formation, helping recruit steering committee members, connecting us with allies in government, business, and the nonprofit world, serving on our board, and helping us find funding in our early years.  As has been noted in other tributes, Bruce was the consummate networker.  He was also a never-ending source of marketing tips and general advice, especially to those working in areas he cared about.  Since employee ownership was dear to his heart, we received thoughtful emails from him several times a month, many of them written in the middle of the night.

     In the 1980s, Bruce, from his position in the City of Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office, worked with then-Mayor Bernie Sanders on a citywide employee ownership initiative.  One of the activities of that initiative was to provide expert advice to owners of area businesses who were considering employee ownership, among them Will Raap who was seeking a good way to share ownership with employees of the recently-founded Gardener’s Supply Company.  

     As Will explained in 1985 in a City-sponsored forum, he was looking for a structure that would support what he believed to be most important thing for the young company: a culture of trust and respect for everyone in the business.  After considering the full range of possible ownership structures, Will settled on an Employee Stock Ownership Plan as most appropriate for the company.  Perhaps because of his experience a few years earlier at Garden Way -- a company where a group of managers who owned a majority of stock staged a takeover of the business, to the consternation of the founder -- whenever Will spoke about ownership by employees, he always emphasized that it was only one part of what made an employee-friendly business that would also serve the community and the planet.  But he did believe it was important.  We are grateful to Will for his support of the VEOC, for some challenging conversations about the connection between ownership and leadership, and especially for encouraging Gardener’s Supply’s Cindy Turcot, now the company's CEO (and a founding board member of ours), as she became a nationally-known advocate for employee ownership.

     We remember you, Bruce and Will, with enormous gratitude.