Episode Eighteen… Season Two Kickoff: Employee Ownership, EV’s Influence, and Economic Olympics

Episode Description

Welcome back to the latest season of Empowered Owners!

In this episode, Chris Fredericks, CEO of Empowered Ventures, and Emily Bopp, Chief of Staff at Empowered Ventures, delve into the exciting world of employee ownership and discover where Empowered Ventures fits into it all.

But that’s not it––This episode also gives a sneak peek into the upcoming season, including special guest shoutouts of our interview rockstars.

You won’t want to miss it.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The various employee ownership models, including ESOPs, worker co-ops, and employee ownership trusts. Learn more about how these models benefit workers and gain insights into how Empowered Ventures fits into this landscape.
  • How Empowered Ventures is making waves in the employee ownership space through assertive acquisition and a creative combination of approaches.
  • Why an ESOP has an incredible future. As this model gains popularity, learn about the goals of Empowered Ventures.

Jump into the conversation:

[01:36] A preview of season two
[04:10] The world outside of Empowered Ventures
[08:51] How EV is unique
[10:18] The Economic Olympics
[13:49] What drives Emily and Chris

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: And I think the subset within the world of capitalism, the subset of employee ownership, I think, has some really powerful dynamics. And it almost, in many ways, and the way I think about it, grabs a lot of the positives from all these different models in the world and kind of consolidates a lot of the best parts of all of them into one, in my opinion.

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. On this episode of Empowered Owners, we’re kicking off season two. Emily Bope, our chief of staff, gives a little preview of the season to come. Then we talk about the world of employee ownership and Ev’s place in it. I’m excited for this season, and I hope you are too. With that. Let’s get to my conversation with Emily. Hi, Emily. Welcome back to Empowered owners. It’s 2024.

Emily Bopp: Thank you. It’s great to be back. Regardless of what year it is, empowered owners is the place to be. And this is really fun. I’m excited to kick it off.

Chris Fredericks: You were going to ask me how my holidays were, and that would have really caught me off guard because we haven’t had that yet.

Emily Bopp: So anyone who’s recorded a podcast might be commiserating with us. Anybody else who doesn’t know that you record these things and then they release two months later. I’m excited to get into it, and I’m excited for all of our people to preview where we’re going in this episode and to also talk about the ESOP world maybe a little bit larger and our place in it. This is a really cool topic. Stay tuned, everybody, because this is something that you’re going to want to know about. But first, where are we going in season two? As we introduced late last season one, we are keeping the weekly approach where every other week we’re talking with a guest, and then on the off week we’re giving an EV update so that will continue through season two and some of the guests that we get to feature. I’m so excited. We get to hear from Jenny Rossi at TVF. She’ll be coming up next week. And then Luke Orszag from first star Lori Atone from TVF, Ben Haviland from Paramount. That’s just the first four, so guests. We’ve got a whole bunch of awesome episodes lined up after them as well. So tune in if you heard any of your friends names mentioned there, you’re not going to want to miss their episode. We’re also going to be talking about what we do to help our companies succeed. So from the EV level, if any of you EVers are ever wondering, what do you actually do and how do you help our companies stay healthy and valuable? And we actually do a lot, and so we want to talk about that. And then the flip to that is, what would we do if ever a company wasn’t eating? So we’re going to get into that in coming episodes. I’m really excited to dive into some of those things. I just want to reiterate that this podcast continues to be by and for our employee owners, our EVers. We’re really excited to put a lot of effort into highlighting our employee owners and letting them tell their stories. I don’t know. Is there anything you want to say about that?

Chris Fredericks: I love it. No. And I’m still reflecting back on season one and how awesome it was and how grateful I am that so many people came on it and the feedback we got, and it is for our people. And I know that they’re getting a lot out of it because we hear from them. And I also think it’s pretty cool to share that we are hearing that people outside of EV are listening and watching and getting a lot out of it, too. I think everyone should be really proud that looking inside at EV, at our companies, is actually something that’s really interesting to people outside of EV, because we have something pretty special going on here.

Emily Bopp: Actually, that’s a perfect segue into the question that I had for you, which is the world outside of EV. So you spend a lot of time in this. You get asked to speak sometimes or be on panels. You’re a part of associations. You’re becoming known in the ESOP, or employee ownership world, and you have a vantage point on the ESOP world or its landscape. Can you tell us about that? What is it? What’s the ESOP world like?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, and I am proud to be part of the ESOP world and to be putting myself out there a little bit more, as you’re suggesting. And I think we are becoming more and more known. For sure. Empowered Ventures is getting on the radar with various folks and entity places because I think we’re doing something really interesting in the employee ownership space. So, yeah, when I think about the ESOP world, I definitely broaden it to just employee ownership in general, which is something that is interesting. There’s other forms of employee ownership, there are other forms of employee ownership other than ESOPs. ESOPs are definitely the most prevalent in the United States. We are an ESOP. There are worker co ops, which is a different structure. There’s something called an employee ownership trust, which is a different structure. And maybe we get into that in the future if people are curious to know what’s different and about the different forms of employee ownership. But it’s one big community in a way, because ultimately all these different structures all benefit the workers who are part of that organization as owners in one way or another. And so there’s a lot of similarities in the cultures and the approaches, some unique differences that could be interesting to explore and learn from each other. And this community is pretty big, even though it’s small, in the grand scheme of number of companies that are employee owned, it’s pretty small. I think it’s somewhere in the ballpark in the United States of 7000, something like that, something like 6000 to 6500 ESOPs, and then another 500 or 1000 other co ops and other types. And I don’t know how many businesses there are in the US. I should know that off the top of my head. But I think we’re a very low percentage of the overall whole, which is both a neat thing. We’re part of a very unique club of these small, kind of special companies that are majority employee owned. It’s also kind of like, I really wish there’s a lot more of these types of companies out there, because we know the power it has to make an impact on people’s lives. But the employee ownership world, there are ways they gather. There’s associations, as you suggested, there’s the ESOP association, as all the ESOP companies in the country are generally a part of this. And they learn from each other, gather data, have conferences. There’s NCEO, the National Center for Employee Ownership. It’s like a really great organization out of Ohio that looks at the broader employee ownership space, including ESOPs and all the other forms, and they put on some great conferences. Educational materials are out there on their website. It’s just, there’s others too, that just trying to, groups that try to gather and support each other around this community. One more, I’ll add, that’s maybe on the cutting edge and growing and interesting is, I would say organizations like empowered ventures and others that are trying to grow employee ownership with creative and thoughtful ways to deploy capital investors. So kind of purpose oriented investors, there’s like a steadily growing amount of interest, like ESG, the interest in environment, social, government. There’s investors that care about what generates the returns that they’re making, and there’s like a growing interest in employee ownership as one of those. You could think of it as the s or the g within social and governance or government oriented progress in the world. So there’s been more gatherings, conferences, webinars and things around that that I’ve started to participate in. And I think it’s just really neat because ultimately, investors drive a lot in this world. The money that drives how things get done in the world, what people care about, who are deploying those resources, it really can go a long way towards making an impact. So it’s considered like an impact investing kind of thing. So that’s a community that I think that’s starting to grow.

Emily Bopp: So I want to ask you a little bit more about that, because that’s how people generally look to us from the outside. And at the beginning of this episode, when I said hang tight, because this is really interesting, this I think is the most fascinating. What makes us unique to outsiders in terms of our model. Can you help us understand that?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, so we’re an ESOP. So that by itself doesn’t make us entirely unique. There’s 6500 other ESOPs out there. I think what they’re looking at is our assertively acquisitive model. Like we’re really trying to grow through acquisition relatively assertively, as well as diversifying through acquisition. Most companies don’t try to diversify. Most small businesses don’t try to diversify through acquisition. Usually that’s a relatively unique model. And then just the way I think we are putting ourself out there, even with this podcast as an example or the documentary we released late last year, putting ourself out there as hopefully inspiring others and inspiring our own employee owners and partners to grow employee ownership through inspiration. And so I think we’re gaining attention, maybe because we care so much about all this and we have a pretty creative combination of approaches relative to maybe how other organizations are approaching employee ownership.

Emily Bopp: Yeah, that being an inspiration to the larger business community about what’s possible makes me so excited. And I think maybe we should talk about the metaphor that we came up shortly after you hired me. If business models like how a business is structured, whether it’s owned by on the public market and has a bunch of public shareholders, or if it’s a privately held company, or if it’s owned by private equity, or if it’s owned by the employees themselves. And there’s lots of other business models, too, but I’m just saying, okay, let’s think about those. If those are the countries of the business world, and we’re all competing for a model that we believe in, that we want to win, ultimately, we want the ESOP or the employee owned, the employee owned country of business model to win. So when you see the future 200 years from now, what could it be? If that were the case? If that were the case, what could the future be like 200 years from now?

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, and we have a silly thought that in 200 years, we want empowered ventures to have made a big impact on the world. I say silly, but it’s not silly. It’s an exciting idea. This gets a little nerdy, maybe some folks who consider themselves interested in economics and world history and all that. This might be an interesting thought for some, is the capitalism Olympics, or the economic Olympics, is how I think about it. There are a lot of competing economic models in the world. There’s the European social free market. It’s like a combination of a socially driven kind of economy that’s not 100% free market. There’s the US market, which is really free market compared to the rest of the world. Capitalism is at the peak in the United States, the way our country approaches the economics. Then there’s like the China model, which has embraced some elements of free market capitalism, but not entirely. It’s very much a government driven approach to economics. And really, the world is a competition, right? When you think about who’s going to win in 200 years, we’re all competing for the future in these different models. And I think the subset within the world of capitalism, the subset of employee ownership, I think, has some really powerful dynamics. And it almost, in many ways, the way I think about it, grabs a lot of the positives from all these different models in the world and kind of consolidates a lot of the best parts of all of them into one, in my opinion. And though we’re a small part of all that, if we think of all the employee owned companies in the world, and there’s some really cool examples of others, like in Spain, there’s a co op that’s called Mondragon, I think. But that might not be exactly right. It’s a co op that has like 70,000 employee owners, worker owners. So there’s like really cool examples of employee ownership in the world. And if we all think of ourselves as being on the same team in the capitalism and economics Olympics. I think that’s a pretty cool idea, and maybe one that we could win in the long run. It’d be really cool if in 200 years, if worker ownership just was the winner and so many people would benefit so much from that. I think if that took place, that.

Emily Bopp: Feels so powerful, seriously, to be a part of that. And back to EV’s place. So the employee ownership world and EV’s place in it, obviously we’re most concerned about the health of our own enterprise, but a short jump over from that is our strong interest in playing a major part in inspiring what you just described, a future where what we’re doing is more prolific.

Chris Fredericks: It’s a really exciting idea for me. It drives me personally so much. Number one, what drives me is our people, and that they succeed and they thrive and that we have a life changing impact for them. Being part of empowered ventures and our companies is life changing for them. But beyond that, I think it does have the potential to spread, to be inspirational and help others continue to go down this path too, or their own version of employee ownership. That altogether we’re winning if we’re all growing.

Emily Bopp: Thank you so much for sharing more of that. Awesome to get inside your head. And hopefully our employee owners have a bigger and an aspirational vision now for something that’s quite big.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah. And they’re part of it. They’re part of something that has some big purpose in the world, and they matter a lot for that purpose. So we’re grateful for them for that.

Emily Bopp: Absolutely. Thank you. This has been an awesome episode. I really appreciate it.

Chris Fredericks: Yeah, thank you, Emily. Appreciate it. I hope you enjoyed this episode of Empowered Owners. Thank you to Emily for joining me and Share Your Genius for producing this episode. As always, 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 Seventeen… Season One Reflections: Holiday Message and Thank You
Episode Nineteen… A Path to Empowerment: Overcoming Life’s Challenges with Jennie Rossi