Episode Fifteen… Exploring the Advantages of Employee Ownership

Episode Description

Ever wondered if there’s more to being an employee owner than just having a retirement account? If so, this episode of Empowered Owners is for you.

Chris Fredericks, CEO of Empowered Ventures, and Emily Bopp, Chief of Staff at Empowered Ventures, dive into the lesser-known benefits of employee ownership that can significantly impact lives now and in the future.

What You’ll Learn

  • How to discover your voice: As an employee-owner, you have a unique opportunity to have a say in the direction and decisions of the company.
  • How to embrace your purpose: Being part of an employee-owned company means your work has a bigger purpose. Embrace it!
  • How to strengthen your financial security: Employee ownership not only provides future retirement funds but also offers a sense of financial security now.

Discover the hidden benefits of employee ownership, and be prepared to feel proud, empowered, and inspired


[01:03] Catch up with Chris and Emily
[02:48] The benefits of employee ownership
[06:06] How ownership helps build purpose
[09:47] ESOP creates lifelong learners
[10:23] Owning your ownership and making a difference

How to Listen or Watch

Listen below or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Watch below or @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube.

Read the full transcript here or below the following media links.


Episode Transcript

Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures. Most people know that an ESOP is a retirement account and the access to those funds isn’t available to the employee until they retire or leave the company. But are there benefits of being part of an employee owned company beyond just the potential retirement funds? On this EV Update episode of Empowered Owners, Chief of Staff Emily Bopp joins me to discuss just that, especially when it comes to Empowered Ventures and our companies. Hi, Emily. Welcome back to Empowered Owners.

Emily Bopp: Hello. I’m excited to get into this podcast, but first wanted to follow up on what we were talking about before we turned on record. Oh, the perils of being a Gen Xer.

Chris Fredericks: Yes, we’re both Gen Xers.

Emily Bopp: We’re both Gen Xers. And I don’t know how many of our listeners are also Gen Xers, but I’ll be darned if we aren’t the forgotten generation that doesn’t get any attention.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, and what we were just joking about, which I think is actually interesting, is we’re the generation that didn’t grow up with the Internet, but then the Internet came, like, when we were in our teens or whatever, so we became comfortable ish with the Internet, but then never fully got comfortable with everything digital. So I don’t know about you, but I cannot land on just doing something digitally versus hard copy, like books. I can’t stick to one or the other. I go back and forth between Kindle and real books and taking notes. I cannot get myself to take electronic notes 100% of the time. I can do it sometimes, but then I’m back in my notebook before I know it, and I can’t stick with one.

Emily Bopp: I know, totally. So I just bought myself a paper planner, literally. I have not had one of these since college. But all of a sudden, I decided I needed one. And then I opened a new bank account. I got the starter checks and I’m like, Do I need checks? In a world of Venmo, do I need checks? But do you know, over about whatever it is now a year and a half, I’ve blown through my six checks, and I think there’s enough Gen Xers and boomers out there who want money from me who aren’t on Venmo. So you’re right, it’s a conundrum. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. What are we talking about today?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, I’m excited, and I think maybe you came up with this idea. If I’m not mistaken, but we’re talking about what the benefits are of actually being part of an employee owned company. And I think that’s maybe for some of us who have been part of this a while, we can lose track of it’s not just about an ESOP account, even though that’s a big part of it.

Emily Bopp: Yeah, and as we were talking about this and putting our heads together, there’s really benefits both now and later. And I think the later is the one that everybody thinks of most often. Like you just said, it’s the retirement account. But there’s so much more to being in an employee owned company because you’re really a part owner of it too. So sometimes you’re wearing your employee hat, but sometimes you’re wearing your owner hat. And that makes for a really different work environment now. So we came up with five major ways that people who work in employee owned companies benefit now, and maybe I’ll just run through those and then we’ll go back and unpack each one. So those five ways are that I, as an employee, have a voice, work has a bigger purpose, I can feel more secure financially, I can make what I want out of my experience as an employee owner, and I can invite others to join and make where I work amazing.

Emily Bopp: So we thought of those five things. Let’s just unpack that a little bit. So I have a voice. Tell me what you think of when you have seen this unfold for 13 years. How is that a benefit and how is it different? What have you seen?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, and I think a lot of these come from how employee ownership tends to become very infused into how many employee owned businesses end up treating people and running essentially as a business. As an employee owned company, we aren’t the only ones that give employees a voice per se, but I do think having a voice, not all regular companies prioritize that, whereas most employee owned companies do. And I think it’s pretty self explanatory. We truly do care a lot about what all of our employee owners think. And in the early years of an employee owned company, there’s, hey, we care what you think. Let’s tell us. Give us feedback. Give us your ideas.

Chris Fredericks: And at times in the early years, it’s like, okay, I’m not sure they really, truly do want to know what I think because there’s just that sphere of should I put myself out there? But I’ve totally seen it in an employee owned company that really lives this value, that it can be truly changing for the whole culture, and people can blossom and share what they think and starts to have a really amazing impact.

Emily Bopp: Yeah. And maybe when you see one person doing it and not getting their hand slapped, that then it just starts to snowball and there’s a new confidence that, oh, wow, I really can contribute my opinion. Not that we can always do what everybody wants to do, but that everyone can be heard in a meaningful way and that their ideas can be taken into consideration. I think it’s pretty unique, but there’s something fundamentally unique about employee ownership that makes it even more powerful, I think.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, absolutely.

Emily Bopp: So my work has a bigger purpose. Tell me about that.

Chris Fredericks: Being part of an employee owned company, it brings something different or stronger. So there’s a sense of ownership that can take hold. Like this company that I’m an owner of does things that are really interesting. Maybe there’s customers that we’re serving that do something really cool or special. And I’m just thinking to some very specific examples at TVF over the years, where can you believe this customer makes this with our fabric? And it’s the employee saying our fabric. You really can feel like your work is meaningful in a different way.

Emily Bopp: All right, how about the big one? I can feel more financially secure. So we’ve already talked about yeah, there’s the statement of building this benefit that you get when you retire, and we’ll talk about that when we get to the later part. But now how does that make me feel more financially secure? Now, I’ve seen examples of this. There can be a lot of people in their twenties, thirties, or forties who for a lot of really good reasons are not saving or investing for their retirement. Like they need to be in order to have that security that they’re going to meet their needs after they either want to stop working or have to stop working. And these folks all of a sudden wake up in their late forties or early fifties, and sometimes even sixty s, and they’re like, oh shoot, now what am I going to do? Because I’m playing catch up. And it’s not usually a matter of irresponsibility. It’s just stuff happens.

Emily Bopp: And so what we were talking about was just how much of a mental strain that can be on someone who is still in their working years, but has this weight of I’ve got to play catch up sort of hanging over their head. And how that limits it’s really a limiting weight. It limits what that person can even imagine that they might be able to do outside of work. And it’s a stressful place to be. So this financial security, it’s that, oh, I know this thing is building alongside whatever else I’m doing to play catch up. I can breathe. I’m going to be okay. And you know what? Now I can actually think about volunteering for my kid or grandkid’s sports team, or I can think about doing some of the other, like, just living things because this isn’t an all consuming worry anymore.

Emily Bopp: And now maybe my health is a little bit better. So, yeah, the financial security piece of just knowing this engine is building behind you, especially for the folks who are behind for a lot of really good reasons. That’s a huge benefit now.

Chris Fredericks: I think it’s really important, and I would say it’s an unsung hero of employee ownership and ESOPs that even in the early years, 5-10 years in, seeing that ESOP account grow gives you a different perspective on the progress you’re making, even though you’re not getting that access to that money immediately.

Emily Bopp: I’m glad you called that out. It’s not just for folks who might be playing catch up, but anyone to feel that you have this more of a long term mindset and that you’re really caring for your life, your future, you is going to thank you. Moving right along. I have unique opportunities to learn and grow, or I can make what I want out of my experience there. I want to let you talk a little bit about this because I know you’ve seen it play out for over a decade now.

Chris Fredericks: I think it’s just employees who are part of an employee owned company, generally, they’re encouraged to be a learner, a grower and bring ideas. And if you bring an idea, how would you like to make that idea happen? So it’s just this general sense of we’re in this together, we’re all making things happen. And if for anyone that wants to you can think outside of your just moment to moment day job, you can think a little bigger. You can think, could I have a bigger impact in some other areas if I had some ideas? And those types of things are very welcome, I think, in our employee owned organizations.

Emily Bopp: Oh, yeah, for sure. And just for the folks who that lights them up, being able to apply your creativity and notice ways that you could do things that would bring you fulfillment but also would better the company, that can really be in a major benefit. Of course, we said this isn’t an exhaustive list and there are lots of folks out there who have lots of great input onto all of the benefits of employee ownership and maybe we’ll find those someday and put them in the show notes. But for us, our number five is I can invite others to join and make where I work even better. Oh my goodness. When you put on that ownership hat, not just an employee hat, but I’m an owner of this place. Oh. I can start thinking about who our employees are.

Emily Bopp: I can start thinking about who I see out there who might be a good fit for our organization. I can invite other people into this. Yeah. Have you seen that play out?

Chris Fredericks: Oh, for sure. I mean, referrals, bringing people, suggesting people for roles, and it’s really just so key to creating that culture where people feel connected with each other and connected in both purpose and as people. It’s a powerful but subtle benefit of being part of employee owned companies.

Emily Bopp: Well, so then to recap the benefits of working in employee ownership culture in one of our companies now is that you have a voice, your work has a bigger purpose, you can feel more financially secure, and you can make of it what you want, and you can invite other people in. Let’s talk about the later, and this is maybe the little more obvious, but I don’t know, you might have some just insight that you’d like to share. Are most people, even with a healthy four hundred and one K, or what our world deems to be a healthy 401K, are most people going to be able to take care of themselves in retirement? And we talk about the retirement benefit later, but how does that stack up against what people typically have saved?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, there’s a lot of really good data out there, both concerning data with regards to how many people just never quite get ahead when it comes to building enough of a retirement nest egg to live with financial security. Once they get to that point in life, like you mentioned, that they either have to or need to stop working. So that’s a concerning problem for our whole country. And the data shows that employee ownership makes an enormous difference. The average employee owner has like twice as much retirement savings essentially, as their counterparties. I think part of the reason is ESOPs also tend to have 401Ks, so people are encouraged to contribute to their own 401Ks well. But that ESOP plan itself, it just on average makes a really big difference.

Emily Bopp: Maybe at some future episode we could dive into some of that data just to help people understand and see what that landscape looks like. But we thought of one other benefit that happens later that just a few of our folks are already starting to experience, because we haven’t had that many retirees. And I don’t think you can put a dollar amount on this, but the benefit of being able to look back over your career, over your life and your time spent, however long, in an employee owned company, and just feel that what you did mattered. I have plenty of friends who are either getting close to retiring or about to retire or have retired, and that’s a really big thing. Like, wow, what did I do all of that for? And for many employee owned retirees to be able to look back and say, wow, I did that for those customers. Like you’re saying, this is our fabric going into this really cool application, or whatever it is. For myself, for my coworkers, people who’d become friends at work, and now seeing how it had impacted their lives, what a sense of purpose. I built this thing, I helped to build this thing that is benefiting so many people.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, it’s really a unique opportunity to build a career that’s in my mind, truly fulfilling, meaning it checks a lot of the boxes that ultimately a fulfilling career should feel like, thank you for.

Emily Bopp: Diving into all of that. So many benefits both now and later. And I don’t think we can talk about that too much. I think there’s a lot there and to that point about making of it what you want. I feel like even us at EV leadership at every level, by talking about these things, we can continue to lean in and make even our version of employee ownership what we want and something really pretty incredible. So thank you for diving into all of this with me today.

Chris Fredericks: Yes. Thank you, Emily. Thank you for listening to this EV update edition of Empowered Owners. And thank you to Emily Bopp for joining me. Remember, we want to hear from you. Please give us feedback, suggest guests and topics for future episodes, and tell us how we can keep improving the show. To reach us, email [email protected]. Thanks for tuning in.

Tags: Podcast
Episode Fourteen… Building an Ownership Culture with Tad Calahan
Episode Sixteen… David Tenny: Military Lessons and Business Success