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Employment and Jobs

Employee Ownership, Strategic Sectors, and Supply Chain Resilience


Employee ownership has long-standing bipartisan appeal. Over the last few years, we have seen that industrial policy, the idea that the government should invest in and support industries critical to the nation’s security and competitiveness, is also appealing to both parties. This conversation will examine how these ideas converge and the benefits and value of having businesses be employee-owned that are important to our national interest and the health of our supply chains. During this panel, we’ll hear from business leaders of employee-owned companies in manufacturing and other critical sectors talk about their work and how employee ownership strengthens it.


Mowa Haile

CEO, Underground, President, Sky Blue Builders

Mowa Haile is president of Sky Blue Builders, which he founded in 2007 after a tenured career in the technology sector. As of 2020, Sky Blue was the Denver Business Journal’s fourth- largest minority-owned business.  He is also the CEO of Apex Underground, a company that was converted to an ESOP in 2022.  Mowa is also  managing member of Sky Blue Properties, Lucina Eatery & Bar, and a member of Sky Blue Concessions. Mowa grew up in Fort Collins after emigrating from Eritrea in 1981 with his family at the age of nine. He was a state high school track champion and went to Colorado State University on a track scholarship earning a bachelor’s of Arts degree in political science, and later getting his master of business administration from the University of Phoenix.  He, his wife and two sons spend their weekends on the soccer or lacrosse fields, skiing or snowboarding, and spending time with family and friends.  They have called Denver home since 1996. Mowa has 28 years of corporate development, operations, and management experience.  Before Sky Blue, Mowa worked in various management roles with Level 3 Communications and Inflow.  Mowa was selected as the Minority Business Person of the Year in 2012 and CEO of the Year finalist in 2015 by ColoradoBiz Magazine.

Mariann Fuller

CFO, Columbia Chemical

Mariann Fuller has spent the entirety of her 19-year career with Columbia Chemical, starting in 2005 as the bookkeeper and moving up to vice president prior to being named chief financial officer in 2022. She holds both CPA and CMA licenses and manages all aspects of the company’s accounting, finance, and human resources activities. She is well regarded for her expertise on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), having transitioned the company to 100% ESOP ownership in 2011 and serving as trustee for eight years. She serves as chairperson of the communications and administrative committees and serves on the board of directors for both Columbia Chemical and a large service-based ESOP. She is passionate about ESOP education and promotes ESOP philosophy and the benefits of ownership culture to employees, fellow businesses, and elected officials. She served as president of The ESOP Association’s Ohio/Kentucky Chapter from 2022 to 2023 and on their national advisory committee on ownership, communication, and culture. Fuller is a frequent presenter on ESOP topics, such as communications and culture, running an effective board, and ESOP administration.

Joey Nestegard

CFO, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories

Joey Nestegard is the chief business officer and chief financial officer at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc. (SEL). He provides oversight, support, and strategic direction to various divisions, including the following teams: aviation, corporate communications, finance, government affairs, human resources, health and wellbeing, information services, manufacturing, legal and compliance, property management, security, supplier development, quality, and vertical integration.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with an accounting emphasis from Washington State University, followed by a Master of Business Administration with a financial management emphasis from the City University of Seattle. Nestegard worked as a senior financial analyst for Attachmate Corporation until 2002, when he joined SEL in a similar role. He has since held positions, including general ledger supervisor, finance manager, director of finance, and vice president of finance. In 2009, Nestegard was instrumental in the company transition to a 100% employee-owned business model.

Nestegard is a member of numerous organizations, including The ESOP Association, National Center for Employee Ownership, National Association of Corporate Directors, and the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts. He serves as a member of the SEL board of directors as well as an executive committee member for the board of the Employee-Owned S Corporations of America. In 2010, Nestegard completed the Utility Executive Course at the University of Idaho. SEL is a 100% employee-owned company that serves the power industry worldwide through the design, manufacture, supply, and support of products and services for power system protection, monitoring, control, automation, and metering. SEL offers unmatched local technical support; a worldwide, 10-year product warranty; and a commitment to making electric power safer, more reliable, and more economical.

Rick Plympton

CEO, Optimax Systems Inc

Rick Plympton is the CEO of Optimax, a precision optics manufacturer in Ontario, NY. He has provided leadership and vision since 1995 to help grow Optimax from a small start-up to America’s largest precision optics manufacturer.

He is actively involved in supporting regional workforce development and the optics industry. He also serves as 

  • Trustee, Optimax Perpetual Purpose Trust
  • Director, Canandaigua National Bank
  • Director, Optica Foundation
  • Treasurer, OEOSC 
  • Director, AmeriCOM
  • Executive Committee, Business Leaders United
  • Member, New York State Workforce Investment Board
  • Other recent honors and participation include: 
  • 2018 Aspen Institute Fellowship for Job Quality
  • 2018 inducted into the Rochester Business Hall of Fame

Rick holds degrees in business administration, computer science, and engineering science from Finger Lakes Community College. He furthered his education at the University of Rochester with a Bachelor of Science degree in Optics ’87 and an MBA ‘99.


Adria Scharf

Associate Director, Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing, Rutgers School 

(Bio forthcoming)

Event information
Tue Apr 9, 2024