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Considering an ESOP? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA
Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA Director-in-Charge, Transaction Advisory & Business Valuation

An Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is a retirement plan in which all or a portion of a company’s stock is held in a trust and the employees are the beneficiaries of the trust. The trust is the actual owner of the shares and over time employees can receive an allocation of the shares. Upon leaving the company, employees receive the value of the shares allocated to them.

There are many elements of an ESOP that can be appealing, but it is not right for every business. Here are three critical questions to ask yourself when determining whether an ESOP is right for your company.

Is it right for you, the business owner?

Business owners first need to figure out what is most important to them when deciding how they would like to transition their ownership. For instance, an ESOP can be a desirable option for a family business that does not have a next generation or other family members willing or able to take over the company. In this situation, an owner may feel compelled to sell the company to a private equity party or a larger competitor. However, selling a family-owned company can take an emotional toll on owners due to the uncertainty surrounding employee job security and the end of the business’s legacy. On the other hand, an ESOP can continue the company’s heritage and ensure employees’ jobs.

Is it right for your employees?

Your employees will also play a critical role in determining whether an ESOP is right for your business. Since employees ultimately continue the company’s legacy, having the right staff is critical. One of the major benefits of an ESOP is that it encourages employees to adopt an ownership mentality. Since all eligible employees will benefit from the company’s profit growth, they typically will be motivated to work harder and make decisions as if they were owners. Such a culture can be contagious and spread throughout the entire organization, propelling the ESOP into future success.

Do you have the right management team in place?

Since management plays such a key role in ensuring the success of an ESOP, it is important to have a strong team in place. The management team will be charged with leading the organization into the future, overseeing corporate governance, keeping up with ESOP laws and regulations, maintaining the ownership mentality, and continuing the company’s legacy.

When determining whether an ESOP is right your company, consider all of the facets involved in becoming and sustaining a successful ESOP. Evaluate your long-term goals, your employee base, and your management team. When everything is properly aligned, an ESOP can be a great option and very rewarding for all parties involved.

Brian J. Sharkey can be reached at Email or 215.441.4600.


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Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA

Brian J. Sharkey, CPA, CVA, CEPA

Director-in-Charge, Transaction Advisory & Business Valuation

Manufacturing & Distribution Specialist, M&A/ Transaction Advisory Services Specialist, ESOPs Specialist, Business Valuation Specialist, Owner Operated Private Companies Specialist, Private Equity-Backed Companies Specialist

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