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Employment and Jobs

Ownership at Work: A Discussion on Designing and Growing Employee Ownership

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The contributions of frontline workers have been widely lauded over the last few years. Though this long-overdue praise is important, we continue to fail to adequately compensate most essential workers even as corporate profits remain high and wealth inequality and race and gender wealth gaps persist. Employee ownership has continued to emerge against this backdrop and across party lines as a potential strategy for building an economy where prosperity is more equitably shared. Awareness about employee ownership, however, remains a challenge. Designing jobs and workplaces that include employee ownership can also be difficult and complex and many opportunities for growing the approach remain unrealized in the US.

Businesses looking to start or transition to an employee-owned business face a number of design choices. Employee Stock Ownership Programs (ESOPs), Employee Owned Trusts (EOTs), worker-owned cooperatives, and equity compensation programs each hold different advantages and disadvantages. They can differ in their profit sharing, costs, flexibility, and how workers are involved in decision making. Designing a workplace culture that fully leverages employee ownership’s strengths also requires intention. What drives businesses to choose employee ownership? What factors affect the design and structure of employee ownership and what workplace culture is needed for it to be effective? What lessons can we learn from employee-owned firms about improving job quality and worker engagement? What supports do employee-owned businesses need and how can philanthropy and government help more businesses find opportunities to build ownership into the jobs they provide?

This is the final conversation in our three-part series, The Job Quality Choice: Opportunities and Challenges in Job Design.

Related Resources

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I’m excited to #talkopportunity about #employeeownership with @ChrisVanHollen, @J_B_Briggs, Todd Leverette @ApisHeritage, Frank Lindsey, @Hardware_Gina, Jeanne K. Wardford @WK_Kellogg_Fdn, and @AlanaSemuels. Join me Oct 20 for this @AspenJobQuality event.

While corporate profits soar, many frontline workers are inadequately compensated and wealth inequality persists. #EmployeeOwnership can help to build an economy where prosperity is more equitably shared. Join @AspenJobQuality Oct 20 to #talkopportunity.

#EmployeeOwnership can be an effective strategy for improving #jobquality, enhancing worker engagement, and sharing prosperity more equitably. How can we support and grow employee ownership? Join @AspenJobQuality on Oct 20 to #talkopportunity.

#EmployeeOwnership can play a strong role in improving #jobquality when designed correctly. What does good design look like in employee ownership and how can we promote it? Join @AspenJobQuality on Oct 20 to #talkopportunity.

October 20: Designing and Growing #EmployeeOwnership. Featuring @ChrisVanHollen, @J_B_Briggs, Todd Leverette @ApisHeritage, Frank Lindsey, @Hardware_Gina, Jeanne K. Wardford @WK_Kellogg_Fdn, and @AlanaSemuels. Hosted by @AspenJobQuality.


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Chris Van Hollen @ChrisVanHollen (closing remarks)
U.S. Senator for Maryland

Elected to the United States Senate by the people of Maryland in November 2016, Chris Van Hollen is committed to fighting every day to ensure that our state and our country live up to their full promise of equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity.

Sen. Van Hollen believes that every child deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams and benefit from a quality education and that anyone willing to work hard should be able to find a good job. That’s why his top priorities include creating more and better jobs, strengthening small businesses, and increasing educational and job training opportunities for individuals of all ages and in every community.

Sen. Van Hollen started his time in public service as a member of the Maryland State Legislature, where he became known as a tenacious advocate for everyday Marylanders and someone who was unafraid to take on powerful special interests on behalf of working people. In 2002, he was elected to represent Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. In the House of Representatives, he served as a member of the Democratic leadership and was elected by his colleagues to be the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee and protect vital interests like Social Security and Medicare.

A tireless fighter for the people of Maryland, Sen. Van Hollen has also become known for working hard to find commonsense solutions to difficult national issues. In January 2015, he released a comprehensive plan to address the problem of growing inequality in America and provide a blueprint for building an economy that works for everyone, a goal that he will continue to fight for in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Van Hollen is proud to have worked successfully with members of both parties to pass bipartisan legislation whenever possible on issues of common concern, including expanding medical research, protecting the Chesapeake Bay, fighting childhood cancer, and passing the ABLE Act to assist families with children with disabilities.

Sen. Van Hollen is a graduate of Swarthmore College, the John F. Kennedy School of Public Policy at Harvard University, and Georgetown University Law Center, where he attended night school. He and his wife, Katherine Wilkens, are the proud parents of three children, Anna, Nicholas, and Alexander.


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Jennifer Briggs @J_B_Briggs
Contract CEO; Chair, Colorado Employee Ownership Commission

Jennifer Briggs brings over two decades of practice in executive leadership, human resources, and organizational development from various industries. She served as vice president of human resources and organizational development with New Belgium Brewing for over 12 years, creating a winning “best of” workplace, and as a consultant with the Beyster Institute at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management. She now serves as CEO for Modern Times Beer and as an independent outside director to PFSBrands and Engineering Economics. Building healthy, profitable, growth-oriented companies with a dedication to integrated impact with shared capital ownership is her passion. She brings a nontraditional leadership viewpoint focused on values, communication, and community. She holds a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership, graduate studies in enterprise project management, and a Bachelor of Science in Community Health.


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Todd Leverette
Co-Founder, Apis & Heritage Capital Partners @ApisHeritage

Todd Leverette is the co-founder of Apis & Heritage Capital Partners, an impact-focused private equity firm that looks to address the nation’s racial wealth gap by using the power of employee ownership. Prior to co-founding Apis & Heritage, Todd was the program manager of legacy business initiatives at the Democracy at Work Institute, a national nonprofit that leverages employee ownership models as tools for racial and social equity. Todd is also a former Wall Streeter, startup co-founder, and independent business consultant who has dedicated his life and career to leveraging the tools and best practices of big business to empower communities of color. He received his law degree and Master of Business Administration from Columbia University and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Morehouse College.


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Frank Lindsey
Employee-Owner and Manager, Old Takoma Ace Hardware

Frank Lindsey is the employee-owner and manager of Old Takoma Ace Hardware in Takoma Park, Maryland, where he is responsible for running a multimillion-dollar retail business with a team of over 22 employees.

Lindsey is passionate about empowering and teaching his team to elevate their lives, create big dreams, and build successful careers that will make them fulfilled.

Lindsey’s professional career is highlighted with stops in information technology, consulting, and business development roles, which began after five years serving in the United States Marine Corps. While in the Marines, Lindsey received numerous awards, such as a Certificate and Letters of Accommodation for work that he did in Afghanistan, a Good Conduct Medal, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with a Service Star, and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Service Stars.

Lindsey is also proficient in American Sign Language and is a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.


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Gina Schaefer @Hardware_Gina
Founder and CEO, A Few Cool Hardware Stores @Cool_Hardware

Gina Schaefer is the founder and CEO of 12 hardware stores in Washington DC, Baltimore, and the surrounding areas. As a member of the Ace Hardware Cooperative, Gina leads a multimillion-dollar business that employs more than 260 people. She is dedicated to maintaining a strong corporate culture and has begun a transfer of ownership through an employee stock ownership plan to her teammates. She is also the author of “Recovery Hardware: A Nuts and Bolts Story About Building a Business, Restoring a Community, and Renovating Lives,” which was published in September 2022.

Schaefer draws her inspiration from fellow entrepreneurs who strive to be creative, think differently, and help make a difference — people like Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, from whom Schaefer learned innovative business strategies; Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, founders of gourmet food group Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Michigan, who inspired her to use her voice as a force for good; and Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, who taught her that nonprofit organizations need to think beyond simple charity.

Schaefer has received numerous accolades for her many accomplishments. She is the recipient of the Women Who Mean Business award from the Washington Business Journal of 2009; she was recognized as an industry Top Gun in 2011 by the National Retail Hardware Association; she was honored by Profiles in Diversity Journal as one of its “Women Worth Watching” in 2013; and she was recognized by Hardware and Building Supply Dealer as one of 14 of the 2016 “People of the Year.” In 2020, she received a Top Women in Hardware & Building Supply award.

She serves on the corporate board of CCA Global and the nonprofit board of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.


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Jeanne K. Wardford
Program Officer, W.K. Kellogg Foundation @WK_Kellogg_Fdn

Jeanne Wardford is a program officer for Family Economic Security at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan.

In this role as a member of the Family Economic Security team, Wardford is responsible for advancing employment equity and business enterprise development focused policies, practices, strategies, and opportunities for effecting positive systemic change within communities aimed at creating conditions in which children can develop, learn, and grow. She works closely with staff to ensure integration and coordination of efforts.

Jeanne has dedicated her life to working for the betterment of individuals both in the public and private sector. Over the last two decades, she has held several positions of progressive leadership in both the public and private sector. Her interest has always been working to develop young people and the communities in which they live. Throughout her career, she has been recognized for her ability to get to the root of the problem and recommend fair, equitable, and oftentimes innovative solutions to age-old problems. She is known for her vigorous policy work and advocacy for children and families.

Prior to joining the foundation in 2015, Jeanne was director for national partnerships at NeighborWorks America in Washington DC. In this role, she built strategic collaborations with public and private investors and secured resources for the implementation of a national asset development program, which included financial education, literacy, coaching, and community development strategy. She has also worked in community development, fund development, and evaluation consulting for TaylarMade Consulting, Inc., where she worked with public, private, and academic sectors and their funding partners.

Jeanne’s leadership in support of education, racial equity, and economic development is reflected not only in her day-to-day activities, but also in her membership on a variety of boards, including the Detroit Public Library Foundation; the Center for Community Progress; Warrior Women, a project of the Michigan Women’s Foundation; the National Women’s Business Council; Bowie State University Dean’s Advisory Council; and FAMU School of Allied Health Advisory Board.



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Alana Semuels @AlanaSemuels
Senior Economics Correspondent, TIME @TIME

Alana Semuels is a senior economics correspondent at TIME magazine, where she writes about topics including work, housing, consumer spending, and the supply chain. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic and a correspondent in both New York and Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Times.

The Job Quality Choice: Opportunities and Challenges in Job Design

Each day, approximately 160 million people in the US go to work. Many of them will work in a job or workplace designed to meet the needs of the employer with little thought given to what employees may need to be successful, or how the success of employers and workers are connected. The results of our country’s collective approach to job design are well documented at this point. Almost one-third of workers in the US – a disproportionate number of whom are women and people of color – earn less than $15 an hour, and over 50% of the jobs projected to be created between 2020 and 2030 will pay less than a living wage. But, wages are just one part of job design. Many of these low-paying jobs also don’t offer personal fulfillment, opportunities for worker input and voice, advancement, skills development, benefits, or other qualities of good jobs.

The evidence is also clear that bad jobs resulting from poor job design are not inevitable, but are reflective of choices we make. Employers in every industry and across every occupation have demonstrated that designing good jobs is possible and beneficial to workers and employers. What can these employers and businesses teach us about job design? What incentivizes and inhibits the design of quality jobs? And what role does philanthropy and government have in helping employers to design good jobs? Join the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program for this mini-series, The Job Quality Choice: Opportunities and Challenges in Job Design, where we will explore the drivers of job design, examine current challenges and opportunities around issues such as technology, skills development, and worker voice, and discuss strategies and practices that create good jobs that help workers and businesses succeed together.

Opportunity in America

Opportunity in America, an event series hosted by the Economic Opportunities Program, considers the changing landscape of economic opportunity in the US and implications for individuals, families, and communities across the country. The series highlights the ways in which issues of race, gender, and place exacerbate our economic divides, and ideas and innovations with potential to address these challenges and broaden access to quality opportunity.

We are grateful to Prudential Financial, Walmart, the Surdna Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Bloomberg, and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth for their support of this series.

Learn More

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.

Event information
Thu Oct 20, 2022
2:00pm - 3:30pm EDT