For over 30 years the Ohio Employee Ownership Center [OEOC] at Kent State University has provided technical assistance, financial expertise, and the training to help businesses become employee owned and successful. They have played a key role in designing and launching the Evergreen cooperatives in Cleveland. [View our recent post about the Evergreen cooperatives>]
“On average employee owned companies are more efficient, innovative, and profitable,” explained Director Bill McIntyre, “but the biggest gains come when companies nurture an ownership culture. For an employee owned company to reach its full potential, workers – and managers – need to unlearn old habits and develop new ones.”
That’s where the training comes in. With an ownership culture, employees offer ideas for new products and services as well as ways for the company to work more efficiently. Karen Thomas points out, “In a traditional business, management develops plans and implementation. In an employee owned business every member has responsibility and influence.”
Not all worker owned companies are organized as cooperatives. Most operate under what is called an Employee Stock Ownership Plan or ESOP. There are about 11,000 ESOP companies in the U.S. Many do not have a strong ownership culture, and the day to day experience for employees is not much different than in a conventional firm. But others truly encourage employees to participate in making the company better and the results can be striking.
We filmed at the EBO Group, an ESOP near Akron, Ohio. They design and build specialized industrial machinery, such as drive trains for heavy mining machinery, and clutches for the tunnel boring equipment used to create the Chunnel between England and France.
EBO also produces an innovative motorized hospital stretcher/chair. That product was suggested by one of the employee owners, who meet individually with their supervisors on a quarterly basis to offer their ideas to make the company more efficient and innovative. EBO was originally privately owned, but when some of the original partners were ready to retire, the owners decided to turn the company over to its employees. “It’s one of the best decisions we ever made,” according to Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Dave Heidenreich.
The success of the EBO Group helps other Ohio companies since EBO contracts with manufacturers in the region to produce parts for the equipment they design and build. And as the worker/owners at the EBO group aren’t interested in closing the Ohio company and moving it overseas, it remains a stable element in the local economy.