The Executive Brief

Challenges and Successes as an ESOP CEO

KeyStone Search ESOP, Private Companies, CEO Transition

KeyStone Search placed this impressive President and CEO just four months ago and we checked in to see how they were adjusting to life with an ESOP. They were kind enough to give us insight into the challenges they are overcoming and how the organization's mission to help people is at the core of all they do.

Being new to an ESOP, what surprises were there?

Prior to becoming an ESOP 3 years ago, the company had been privately owned for over 25 years. I have been surprised how often employees refer to this change that happened 3 years ago. There was a shift of having to think about how money is spent in a different way because it doesn’t belong to just a few people; it belongs to the ESOP, which means it belongs to all of our employees. I appreciate that this sensitivity to making sound financial decisions, but even good change can be hard, so at times I believe that some of our staff still long for the “good ole days.” 

What challenges did you face when you began in regard to leading an ESOP?

We are in an industry that employs a lot of entry level workers and has significant turnover. While the management level appreciates the long term advantages of ownership, it is way down the list of priorities for young, lower paid workers, living from pay check to pay check. The real challenge is to improve retention. If we can do that, more of our team members will stay long enough to make this ownership opportunity truly meaningful. Another challenge all of us are facing is the pandemic and the limitations of being able to get together for social activities, including celebrating being an ESOP. Our ESOP team did a great job of coming up with some engaging virtual activities, but all of us missed getting our whole team together in person.

What is unique about your culture that you'd like to highlight?

We have deep relationships within our local communities. This includes police, health care workers, educators, and politicians. Some of these people are former employees, friends or relatives of employees, or just people who understand and appreciate the difference we are making in people’s lives.

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