10 Inspiring Employee-Owned Businesses You Should Know

10 ESOPs AND COOPERATIVES YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

MONDRAGON Corporation

  • Headquarters: Basque region, Spain

  • Established: 1956

  • Number of employees: 74,335

  • Ownership model: Federation of worker cooperatives

MONDRAGON is the world’s biggest and most successful worker cooperative, with 260 companies around the globe, 103 of which are cooperatives. Its first product was paraffin heaters, but it now operates in sectors that include finance, manufacturing, retail, and knowledge. Founded by a Catholic priest, the company values education, work, and solidarity above all else.

Cooperative Home Care Associates

  • Headquarters: Bronx, NY

  • Established: 1985

  • Number of employees: 2,200+
  • Ownership model: Worker cooperative

CHCA is the largest worker cooperative in the US. It provides free training, full-time hours, and competitive wages to its staff of almost entirely African-American and Latina women. In 2012, it became a B Corp, and continues to provide high-quality opportunities in home healthcare, one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the US.

Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Union

  • Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan
  • Established: 1965 (worker cooperatives in 1982)

  • Number of employees: 10,400
  • Ownership model: Federation of consumer cooperatives

The Seikatsu Club is primarily a consumer buying co-op with 360,000 members. But it now also incorporates more than 400 worker cooperatives in food distribution, food preparation, catering, recycling, childcare, education, and more. 

Equal Exchange

  • Headquarters: West Bridgewater, MA
  • Established: 1986 (became a worker cooperative in 1990)

  • Number of employees: 145 (120 worker-owners)
  • Ownership model: Worker cooperative

Equal Exchange helped introduce Fair Trade coffee to the US in the 1980s. Now, the cooperative imports and sells coffee, tea, chocolate, and more from around the world. Each year, worker-owners reinvest 60 percent of net profits in the co-op. (Read our previous interview with the company.)

Evergreen Cooperatives

  • Headquarters: Cleveland, OH
  • Established: 2008

  • Number of employees: 118
  • Ownership model: Federation of worker cooperatives

After the most recent major recession, a group of major Cleveland-area nonprofits, hospitals, and universities came together to create a portfolio of businesses to try to alleviate poverty in some of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods. Though much-hailed at inception, some of the businesses — especially the laundry and greenhouse — struggled to deliver on their promises of self-sustaining wealth generation. That’s improving, and in 2017 Evergreen will begin planning its fourth cooperative project. 

Bob’s Red Mill

  • Headquarters: Milwaukie, OR
  • Established: 1978 (employee ownership began in 2010)
  • Number of employees: 200+
  • Ownership model: ESOP (100 percent)

In honor of his 81st birthday, company founder Bob Moore presented his employees with an ESOP program that gave them full ownership in the organic whole-grain products company he’d built. Since then, Bob's Red Mill has expanded its line of grains and flours to more than 400 products. 

 

Publix

  • Headquarters: Lakeland, FL
  • Established: 1930

  • Number of employees: 182,500

  • Ownership model: ESOP (30 percent)

This southeastern grocery chain is the largest US company that counts employees as a majority of its shareholders. It’s had some form of employee profit sharing since it began, even during the Great Depression. Publix now contributes an average of 9 percent of wages to employee ESOP accounts each year. Fortune has awarded the chain a spot on its “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since the list started in 1988.

Herman Miller Inc.

  • Headquarters: Zeeland, MI
  • Established: 1905 (employee ownership began in 1977)
  • Number of employees: 8,000
  • Ownership model: ESO

Best known for the Aeron chair, this furniture and design company includes employee ownership in its list of commitments to corporate social responsibility. All full-time employees with 30 days of service are entitled to own stock in the Herman Miller through the Employees’ Stock Purchase Plan.

Lifetouch

  • Headquarters: Eden Prairie, MN
  • Established: 1936 (employee ownership began in 1977)
  • Number of employees: 15,400
  • Ownership model: ESOP
(100 percent)

This photography company specializing in school photography and family portraits is the largest 100 percent employee-owned business in the US. With an ESOP trust valued at $1.6 billion as of 2014, the plan paid $148 million to 9,200 active participants in 2014.

L. Gore & Associates Inc.

  • Headquarters: Newark, DE
  • Established: 1958 (employee ownership began in 1974, as soon as it was enabled by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act)
  • Number of employees: 10,000+
  • Ownership model: ESOP (90 percent of company is owned by employees)

Best known as the makers of GORE-TEX waterproof fabrics, the Gore company has a particularly egalitarian culture, with associates working mainly in teams. Fortune has named it one of the best 100 places to work in the US for 19 years straight. Meanwhile, the company brings in worldwide revenues of around $3 billion a year. 


 

This article appeared in Issue 9 | September/October 2016

We’re going local in Issue 9, taking a deep look at what it takes to create thriving communities, where some attempts fall short, and how conscious business can and does help. We have interviews and advice from top CEOs, including George Siemon of billion-dollar farmers’ co-op Organic Valley; Robyn Sue Fisher, who built a 200-employee ice cream business out of a Radio Flyer wagon; and Reeves Clippard of A&R Solar, one of Seattle’s fastest-growing companies. We also investigate the dark side of the sharing economy, offer a complete guide to the new equity crowdfunding law, and present the case for employee ownership. Plus: how to be a better listener, key business lessons for makers, Detroit’s leading innovators, and more!

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