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Episode 137: The Hard-Nosed Business Case for Employee Ownership
The Hard-Nosed Business Case for Employee Ownership

This week, Jay Goltz explains how he got interested in selling a percentage of his business to his employees and why he quickly lost interest once he started reading books, attending seminars, and talking to accountants and lawyers who specialize in employee stock ownership plans. To Jay’s ear, they all made ESOPs sound expensive, complicated, and risky. This was not something he needed to do. So why go to the trouble? Why take the risk? But he kept asking questions, and over time, he sensed that many of the problems he was being warned about didn’t have to be problems. As of now, he’s pretty much concluded that an ESOP could help him secure retirement for his employees while generating more profit for his business. In fact, he says, “I'm confident I can make more owning 70 percent of the company than I am now owning 100 percent.” But he still has a few lingering questions, which is why we invited Corey Rosen to join the conversation. Corey helped draft the legislation that created ESOPs, he's the founder of the National Center for Employee Ownership, and he literally wrote the book on how the plans work. All of which led to an inevitable question for both Jay and Corey: If ESOPs are so great, why are there so few of them?

Jay Goltz’s 12-Step Business Check-Up

This week, Shawn Busse, Jay Goltz, and Sarah Segal talk about what they hope to accomplish in 2023. Sarah’s moving into new offices, aiming for 20-percent growth, and hoping to land a chocolate company as a client. Shawn’s looking for new space, too, and attempting to reposition his business to shake the corrosive effects of the pandemic. And Jay’s employing a methodical 12-step process to assess how his business is performing: Hiring? Check. Pricing? Needs work. Inventory levels? Way out of line. Office technology? Major problems. And then there are his ongoing efforts to mentor his two sons in the business and prepare for the inevitable. These days, Jay tells us, he’s especially careful when getting in front of buses. If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know our business owners discuss their journeys with unusual candor. But in some episodes we go especially deep. This is one of those episodes.

I Want to Double Sales Again Next Year

This week, Shawn Busse, Paul Downs, and Liz Picarazzi talk about their plans and goals for 2023. Shawn, whose marketing efforts still haven’t recovered from the pandemic, is hoping to build on the success of a recent event. Paul, coming off his best year ever, is investing $150,000 in a marketing campaign, including a new website targeting a different set of customers. And Liz, too, is attempting to shift her customer base, in her case from residential to municipal work. More immediately, however, Liz, who does not relish dealing with legal issues, has to decide how to confront a copycat competitor.

Should We Tell the Employees?

This week, Shawn Busse, Jay Goltz, and Laura Zander talk about the buying and selling of businesses. Laura thinks her recent purchase of a small distribution business could change the trajectory of her whole company, helping her finesse the challenge of selling wholesale products to her retail competitors. Jay, meanwhile, has been trying to help an aging business owner sell the kind of business that too often just fades away. Underlying both discussions is an intriguing question: While it’s common practice for owners trying to sell their business to keep the potential sale a secret, fearing employees might otherwise flee, is that really the best approach? Or is it actually a betrayal? Plus: We answer a listener's question about finding the right balance between being a kind boss and being a pushover. And we play a quick game of Who Said It: Elon Musk or Mr. Burns?

Are You a Good Negotiator?

This week, Paul Downs and Sarah Segal talk about their experiences negotiating, what they’ve learned and where they’ve struggled. One key factor, of course, is defining what constitutes a successful negotiation. As Paul points out, one definition is squeezing every last penny out of the other side. That is not Paul’s definition, especially when negotiating salary with a new employee. Sarah, meanwhile, discusses the tactics she uses to try to guide potential clients to the price and options she hopes they will accept. Plus: Sarah explains how she picked her new office space, and Paul explains why his experience with a Vistage peer group has been life-changing.

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For Richer, For Poorer

This week, Liz Picarazzi, Hans Schrei, and Laura Zander talk about something they have in common: They all own and run their business with a partner who also happens to be a spouse. Which suggests some interesting questions: Is someone in charge? How do they divvy up responsibilities? What do they talk about? What do they fight about? Do they fight in front of the employees? How do they make decisions? Who does the dishes? Do they ever wish they were not in business with their spouse? Do they know what would happen to the business if they were to divorce?

There’s Big Money All Over the Place

This week, Shawn Busse tells Jay Goltz and Sarah Segal that he sees all kinds of opportunities for small businesses, including his own, in the coming wave of climate-related government spending and tax credits. Count Jay among the convinced. He’s got four buildings, five vans, a truck, some Sprinters, and a parking lot where he could put a charging station. If there’s government money available for upgrades, he asks, “Why wouldn’t I do that?” Plus, Jay explains how he’s rethinking his search for an HR person. And Sarah tells us she’s ready to meet in the metaverse.

Should You Be in a Business Group?

This week, Sarah Segal, Jay Goltz, and special guest Leo Bottary have a hype-free conversation about why peer-advisory groups like Vistage, YPO, and EO can be life-changing for business owners and why they’re not for everyone. Sarah has been wondering if they’re for her. Jay, who’s been in six different peer groups, says it can be worth the price of admission just to see how other owners run their businesses—but there are reasons he keeps leaving the groups he joins. And Leo is a former Vistage employee who has written multiple books on peer groups and has built a related consulting practice. Surprisingly few business owners belong to a peer group. Are they missing out? All three of my guests suggest questions to consider before deciding for yourself.

Successful Raise, Fast Growth, Mental Health Issues

This week, Hans Schrei tells Shawn Busse why this has been a difficult year at Wunderkeks—despite many outward signs of success. It has to do with buying into the need to raise money and shoot the moon. It has to do with accepting the accolades that come with entrepreneurial achievement and then questioning your own self-worth when those accolades stop coming. It’s what Hans calls, “the miracle worker complex.” Hans and Shawn also discuss what it means to rely upon a sales platform like Amazon. Do you own the customer or does Amazon? And Shawn explains the biggest takeaway from his most recent Vistage meeting.

Rule No. 1: We Will Not Have Civil Wars

This week, Shawn Busse, Paul Downs, and Liz Picarazzi talk about why it’s so easy for tension to break out inside a business. Liz sees tension brewing between her people in the office and her people in the field. Shawn often sees friction at businesses between sales and those who have to deliver what sales sells. Paul says there’s always the potential for tension when a project gets handed from one set of workers to another, and he’s created a very deliberate process to address it. We have, he says, “really tamped down the civil wars and started solving the problems, as opposed to letting them fester.” Plus: Are Shawn and Liz going to hit their numbers this year? And have the owners seen their health insurance rates for next year?

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