Evergreen Trading’s Ownership Structure
Building Better: An Employee – Powered Vision for Business Transformation
By: Gordon Zellner, CEO and Founder
I’ve always had a passion for building; an engineer by nature and education. Throughout my career I’ve found myself building new processes, new partner relationships, novel ways of doing things, and, eventually, my own company. But most importantly, and as I evolved, I found personal fulfillment in building people up as they grow in their careers.
These experiences have shown me the importance of being open and willing to do things differently, rolling with the punches, and accepting change. They have also confirmed my firm belief that investing in people facilitates the greatest innovation. Much of our evolution is fluid – designs improve, novel technologies and ways of working become available, new challenges develop and new skills are needed to meet those challenges. We are forever a work in progress, and that’s a good thing. Our social condition allows us to continually innovate towards a better quality of life and constantly push the needle of what we think is possible.
2020 was unlike any before, with the adversity and challenges ushered in by COVID-19 accelerating every industry’s need to innovate and revolutionize how business is done. To meet these new work and company challenges, business owners/leaders need to listen more than ever and embrace a more collaborative approach to how their organization operates so that every employee can thrive and tap into the full potential of purpose-led businesses.
This is why after 11 years of personal ownership, we executed a 100% sale of the Evergreen Trading company, to the employees, through our employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). During a time of great upheaval, our teams went the extra mile and proved themselves at every level to operate as owners.
I couldn’t be happier for our team, who earned and deserve this opportunity, or our business, which is strengthened by our recent business transformation efforts. I truly believe that ESOP companies are primed for the future needs that the business world will require in the coming years, and are best suited to meet our social condition of constant evolution. Here are a few reasons why:
Internal Alignment with Talent
There’s been a lot of chatter about the importance of internal alignment within organizations to execute against business goals. The most innovative companies lead with an inspired workforce. By fostering personal and professional investment, businesses allow employees at every level to feel a sense of pride and connection to the larger business objectives as a whole. The opportunity to be a partial owner of a business attracts, retains, and develops talent that is passionate about the organizational mission and is dedicated to turning that vision into a reality. It also creates greater business resilience and agility. Data from the National Center of Employee Ownership (NCEO) shows that ESOP companies are 25% more likely to stay in business.
ESOP companies create more opportunities for the entire workforce, which fosters better job security and increases sustainable working models across the entire organization. This type of dynamic also has ripple effects outside of the organization, allowing employed individuals to offer greater stability to their family, loved ones, and others whom they may support. During recent recessions, employee-owners are 4x less likely to be laid off, offering a heightened level of job security when people need it most. Additionally, ESOP organizations can provide a better quality of life with more compensation for each employee. According to NCEO, Employees in ESOP companies’ retirement accounts are 2.5x larger than all others and earn 5-12% more in wages. This added insurance and support alleviates certain stress and life pressures, allowing each individual to think more creatively and at a higher level.
People first organizations also understand the value a support/ inspiration network can drive for a business overall. By providing each owner with the opportunity to connect with and learn from experts and veterans in their industry, these networks can serve as catalysts for stronger business innovation. That’s why I’m proud to announce that in addition to shifting our business towards an ESOP model, Evergreen is also expanding its board, with the addition of Mike Schlotman, former CFO of Kroger. Mike is one of retail’s most respected executives and brings with him an unmatched wealth of industry expertise. We are honored and thrilled to welcome Mike to the Evergreen community and are equally excited by the opportunities this brings for all of our owners.
Employee engagement is a key driver of business success and innovation. Among many other things, COVID19 has increased conversations around new working models and productivity concerns as we try to grapple with the virus and visualize what the future of work looks like once herd immunity is achieved. With organizations adopting and embracing virtual and flexible working, maintaining and improving productivity while remote has been on the top of the agenda for all business leaders. Here again, ESOP organizations shine. NCEO finds that productivity improves on average of 5% in the first year of the ESOP. While 5% may not seem like a lot, if you think about the data from a qualitative versus a quantitative perspective, the impact this increased productivity drives for the business as a whole is profound.
What’s more, talent benefits as well with a heightened sense of impact, engagement, accountability, and responsibility to the business and its customers. After all, they aren’t working for someone else’s company — they are partial owners now and their reputation is reflective of the organization and vice versa.