May 16, 2021
It’s one thing to know that you want to convert to employee ownership. It’s another to know how to do it.
For nearly 25 years, Iron Woman Construction has worked in the areas of trucking, civil construction, environmental services, mining infrastructure, utilities, and more.
And while their status as an employee owned company didn’t become official until 2019, employee wellbeing has been baked into their culture from the beginning.
In this story we’re going to cover why Iron Woman decided to become employee-owned, how RMEOC provided education to make it possible, and how employee ownership has helped them during COVID-19 and beyond.
Note: We help businesses at every stage of their journey with employee ownership — whether you just want to learn more or are ready to convert. Schedule a free consultation to talk to one of our specialists today.
A “Family-First” Culture
Shaun Egan founded Iron Woman in 1999 as a Native American-owned company with his mother and named the company in honor of his great-great-great-grandmother’s Blackfeet name. From the beginning, their generosity and concern for their workers’ well-being created a “family-first” culture at the company.
That desire to see workers benefit led to conversations about employee ownership — a way for all employees to become owners and have a financial stake in the success of the company. After a bit of fundraising and a generous out-of-pocket gift from Shaun himself, Iron Woman kicked off the committee to convert to an employee owned company in 2018.
Working With RMEOC
After forming the committee, Clare White, Director of Corporate Strategy & Development, reached out to several organizations for support, including RMEOC. She appreciated the practical, “this-is-how-it-works” conversations that lifted the fog and simplified the process of employee ownership.
“I’m a context person; I need to dig in,” she said, “[RMEOC] connected the dots for me. They make it real as opposed to something you’re reading.”
With the help of RMEOC, Iron Woman began to explore different structures of ownership — including an ESOP and worker cooperative — before deciding on a restricted stock plan. Then, in 2019, Iron Woman successfully converted to an employee owned company.
Clare says one of the most helpful resources was a session on financing. Financing can be a particularly daunting topic for any business owner, with many wondering what a stock option plan will mean for their business in terms of debt.
Attending the session gave the Iron Woman team a sense of clarity as to how employee ownership could work logistically for their individual circumstance.
“It’s very welcoming and appropriate regardless of where you are,” Clare said.
Benefits for Employees
One of the biggest benefits Iron Woman has seen from converting to employee ownership is a sense of internal purpose among its employees. Doug Petty, VP of Marketing, reports a growing number of people are thinking about what it means to be an owner — including becoming involved in bigger business decisions.
And while they’re still early in their days as an employee owned company, Iron Woman is starting to gain traction with employee ownership as part of their brand.
“Younger employees in particular are really excited about it,” Doug said, “Our corporate social responsibility and culture is really what makes the difference.”
During a time like the COVID-19 pandemic, that culture has been paramount to staying connected as a team. Even while working remotely, employees at Iron Woman continued to embrace ownership while navigating the crisis.
Look To the Future
Restricted ownership made sense for Iron Woman’s size and LLC structure. Now, they’re considering restructuring as an S-Corp and establishing an ESOP.
Regardless of how they choose to structure their organization, promoting employee ownership will continue to be a priority. Doug says that cultivating a shared understanding of what it means to be an owner is key to recruiting and retaining good people.
The Iron Woman team hopes that they’ll soon be able to give back to the employee ownership community by helping other businesses who are starting their own journey.
“Someday we’d like to be that company that helps others in the process,” Doug remarked. “In the future we want to share our experiences.”
Who else would benefit from employee ownership?
Clare and Doug agree that any “employee-centric” business would benefit from employee ownership.
“So much data talks about resilience in downturns,” Clare said, “and that reaches out past the company to subcontractors, vendors, and more.”
Indeed, ESOP companies are 25% more likely to stay in business, and employee-owners were four times less likely to be laid off during the recession of 2008. (For more data on the benefits of employee ownership, click here.)
At the end of the day, it comes down to a business model that prioritizes the wellbeing of people over profit.
“Part of corporate development is employee ownership,” Clare said.
“Treat people well, because they’re your biggest asset.”
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We help businesses at every stage of their journey with employee ownership — whether you just want to learn more or are ready to convert. Schedule a free consultation to talk to one of our specialists today.