What it means to be an employee owner
Here at SERA, we’re a 100% employee owned and operated firm. So what does that mean? Funny you should ask.
Many years ago, SERA’s founders, Bing Sheldon and Don Eggleston, looked ahead to their retirement and realized that they didn’t want the traditional transition of the firm to take place, whereby a few employees ‘buy out’ the owners. They wanted the firm ownership to transfer to the employees; the leadership to be the most qualified (not just the most capitalized); and to grow the firm with employees who understood and would cultivate our culture and values.
Enter the ESOP. Stick with me here, I’ll try to be brief.
An ESOP is an Employee Stock Ownership Trust, whereby 100% of the privately-held stocks are kept in an employee benefit Trust. The company contributes a certain amount annually to the Trust, and each year the company is appraised and a stock price per share is determined. The number of shares per employee is based largely by tenure at the firm and salary. The tenure, called a vesting period, allocates a certain percentage towards each employee. Each year of employment the vested percentage increases, until after a certain tenure, an employee is fully vested.
But at SERA, being an ESOP is just a piece of what makes each employee a part owner.
Firm leadership is a great example of the employee ownership culture. Rather than employees becoming principals by buying in, firm leadership is based upon each member’s skill set that guides the business and our internal practices. In essence, who is the most qualified and what is best for the firm?
The sustainability focus of SERA, in both our projects and office culture, is another example of employee ownership. Initially developed internally by employees who felt that it was at the core of our ethos, it is still a fundamental element of our culture because it has remained important to the employees. Each year our Sustainable Action Committee, made up of employee volunteers, organizes a celebration to highlight our sustainable projects and office initiatives.
But of course, the most important element of being an employee-owned company means that the firm’s successes and failures, financial and otherwise, affect everyone. This understanding that what we do each day is tied to our company’s health, has created a culture of pride in our work and a collaborative nature between employees, as we know that it is not just us individually, but all of us together, who shape SERA because we truly own it — all of it.
Thanks, Kyle, for another great entry! An important intro to employee ownership for new staff and people outside of the firm!
Pingback: Designing Against The Grain | Thoughtful Sophistication—Interview with Lacey Bartels