The Employee Ownership Ideas Forum, hosted this past June by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, fostered cross-sector discussions around growing employee ownership in the US. Over the course of two days, a diverse group of stakeholders, including philanthropists, investors, researchers, practitioners, business leaders, and workers from employee-owned companies, as well as bipartisan policymakers, united to champion the cause of employee ownership. The event showcased the potential of this model to enhance job quality, promote equity, and cultivate stronger and more competitive businesses.
One of the distinguished speakers at the Forum, the Honorable Chrissy Houlahan, US Representative for Pennsylvania, explored the potential of employee ownership to address critical economic challenges. Rep. Houlahan highlighted the significance of the Employee Ownership Investment Act in fostering the growth of employee ownership, which she argues has the power to narrow racial and gender wealth gaps, mitigate the effects of the looming “silver tsunami” (the large number of baby boomers who are now reaching retirement age), and better support families and employees through higher wages and increased job security.
Melissa Hoover, executive fellow at the Rutgers Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and founder and co-executive director of the Democracy at Work Institute, offered insights into the current state of employee ownership and the critical links between policy and effective implementation. Hoover emphasized that collaboration and advocacy are crucial in ensuring the successful implementation of employee ownership policies. She highlighted the need to bridge the gap between legislation and implementation, as well as to establish connections between different sectors and agencies for seamless execution.
Employee ownership is presented as not just a solution for owners, but also for workers who need opportunities to build wealth, specifically for those who represent marginalized communities that have previously been locked out of those opportunities. On day one, Todd Leverette of Apis & Heritage Capital Partners discussed the opportunities that lie in the current state of employee stock ownership plans, as the large number of retiring business owners creates a unique opportunity to grow employee ownership.
The transformative potential of employee ownership was further emphasized by Jeanne Wardford, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. She illuminated the inadequacies of the traditional wealth structure and underscored the opportunity for families to increase their individual wealth through employee ownership. Wardford’s insights stressed the potential of this model to contribute to closing the racial wealth gap. Conjunctionally, Sarah Keh, vice president of corporate giving at Prudential Financial, shares that at Prudential Financial they choose to look at employee ownership as a way to help create ownership opportunities and pathways to really help marginalized individuals build wealth and develop financial health and well-being.
The case for employee ownership is further bolstered by the impressive research we see coming from this field. For example, Paige Ouimet, professor of finance at the University of North Carolina, presented research on the increased productivity observed in employee-owned firms, as well as rising wages for workers. Her findings highlighted the need for further facilitation of the exchange of knowledge and insights.
Testaments from leaders of employee-owned companies reinforce the idea that employee ownership is what drives the performance and innovation of their business. Among them was Jerome Brown of HDR, who delved into the ethos and culture of ownership within his company. According to Brown, HDR found that fostering a sense of ownership among employees led to increased commitment to quality work and a stronger dedication to the company’s success. This culture not only benefits clients, but also contributes to higher employee retention.
As the event concluded, the message was clear: employee ownership is a powerful tool for addressing economic challenges, promoting equity, and building stronger businesses. The first Employee Ownership Ideas Forum showcased the momentum building within the employee ownership movement and emphasized the importance of continued collaboration and action. As plans begin for the next forum in 2024, the anticipation for more discussions, insights, and success stories is palpable. The commitment to amplifying employee ownership’s impact on job quality, wealth distribution, and business competitiveness remains unwavering and we look forward to continuing this conversation with you in the months and years ahead.
Clips from the Employee Ownership Ideas Forum
The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.