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Employment and Jobs

Sustaining Ownership: The Promise of Employee Ownership Trusts


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About this event

Employee ownership can take many forms: employee stock ownership plans, worker cooperatives, broad-based equity sharing plans, and more. A less common approach in the US, but one that is gaining attention, is employee ownership trusts (EOTs). While research has demonstrated the benefits of employee ownership for business performance, business resilience, and job quality, the growth in the number of employee-owners has plateaued. The leveling off is not because fewer businesses are choosing employee ownership as a succession plan, but rather due to valuable employee-owned companies being sold. EOTs, a type of perpetual purpose trust, have the potential to sustain employee ownership over time, often while serving other purposes.  

EOTs can provide profit-sharing, support democratic workplace practices, and, like other forms of employee ownership, are associated with improved productivity. While uncommon in the US, EOTs are the primary form of employee ownership in the UK. The model’s successes have been such that the government of Canada recently took steps to facilitate EOT transitions, and there are indications that the approach is gaining ground in the US, as well. Join the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program for “Sustaining Ownership: The Promise of Employee Ownership Trusts,” the third and final conversation in our series, “Employee Ownership’s Moment: Discussions on Advancing Policy and Practice.” Our expert panel will discuss the current state of research into trusts, the benefits EOTs provide, how EOTs compare to other forms of employee ownership, the experiences of business owners and workers in trusts, and what the future holds for this model in the US.

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Employment and Jobs
The Emergence of Employee Ownership Trusts in the US
November 30, 2023 • Maxwell Johnson


headshot of Leah Hamilton
Leah Hamilton

Manager of Culture and Organizational Effectiveness, Optimax Systems

Leah Hamilton wholeheartedly believes in community building, collaboration, and courageously breaking down barriers to success. Formerly a public library director working to bridge the technical skills gap by partnering industry, educators, and community organizations in innovative ways, Leah joined Optimax Systems, a precision optics manufacturer in Ontario, New York, in 2019.

As the manager of culture and organizational effectiveness, Leah is passionate about assessing and incorporating employee experience, practices, and behaviors into cultural and organizational development initiatives. She strives to build employee engagement through community-minded practices and create transformational leadership and learning strategies that support individual, team, and organizational success.

Chris Michael

Founder and Managing Director, EOT Advisors

Chris Michael is a financial advisor, economist, author, founder of EOT Advisors, and professor at Rutgers University. He founded the first financial services firm in the country dedicated to assisting business owners sell their company to an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT). Chris is responsible for developing the EOT as a new financial and legal mechanism in the United States and has published articles introducing the concept in leading peer-reviewed journals, including Tax Notes and Probate & Property.

He is also a professor at Rutgers University, where he is a director of the Institute for the Study of Employee Ownership and Profit Sharing. Chris holds a BA from Columbia University and a JD/PhD from the City University of New York. His doctoral dissertation, the result of a decade researching the economics and history of employee ownership, is forthcoming as a book.

Melinda Paras

Founder and Former Owner, Paras and Associates

Melinda Paras was the founder and owner of Paras and Associates (PAA), a California based corporation, leading the implementation of new language access solutions using video call center technologies. Paras sold the company to its employees in an Employee Owned Trust in 2021. The Paras and Associates team manages the Health Care Interpreter Network (HCIN), a cooperative of more than 50 hospitals and clinics sharing interpreter services. Ms. Paras is a former President of the Alameda County Medical Center Board of Trustees and a former San Francisco Health Commissioner.

Rick Plympton

CEO, Optimax Systems

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.


headshot of Kristin Toussaint

Kristin Toussaint

Staff Editor, Impact Section, Fast Company

Kristin Toussaint is a staff editor for the Impact section at Fast Company, where she covers climate change, labor, shareholder capitalism, and all sorts of innovations meant to improve the world.

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
Wed Oct 25, 2023
2:00pm - 3:15pm EDT