Fifty by Fifty joined mission-led employee-owned companies to shine spotlight on benefits of employee ownership
by Sarah Stranahan
In mid-September more than 600 people attended the 2019 B Corp Champions retreat, organized by B Lab, in Los Angeles. Among the 600 participants were several “next generation businesses,” or mission-led employee-owned firms, including Eileen Fisher, Gardener’s Supply, KeHe Foods, King Arthur Flour, Technicians for Sustainability and South Mountain Company.
Fifty by Fifty (Jessica Rose and Sarah Stranahan) attended the champions retreat to promote employee ownership in the B Corp community. Democracy at Work Institute and Project Equity also participated.
Among the 600 participants were several “next generation businesses,” or mission-led employee-owned firms.
In just over a decade B Corp, which provides a framework for companies to value and measure social impact alongside earnings, has grown from an ambitious idea to a global movement of over 3,000 businesses from more 65 countries, representing more than 15 industries.
The B Corp certification program, administered by B Lab, allocates points based on a rigorous assessment of business, environmental, employment, governance, community and consumer practices. B Lab has also advocated for state statutes allowing businesses to incorporate as benefit corporations, a status that allows companies legally to pursue multistakeholder outcomes, rather than focusing only on shareholder returns. Businesses can now incorporate as benefit corporations in 36 states and 3 countries.
The B Corp movement sees this as a pivotal moment to scale and spread the idea of multi-stakeholder business design.
Fifty by Fifty was invited to share its research on mission-led employee-owned businesses with B Academics, an emerging group of business, law, and sociology professors who are using B Lab data to measure and promote multi-stakeholder businesses. Our research compared the B scores of employee-owned B Corps with those of non-employee-owned B Corps and ordinary businesses. Not surprisingly, the employee-owned companies outperformed their peers on every measure.
With John Abrams from South Mountain Company and Cindy Turcot from Gardener’s Supply, Fifty by Fifty also co-facilitated a workshop, “Protecting Your Business Legacy through Employee Ownership.” Abrams and Turcot shared how employee ownership had benefitted their businesses and their employees, while also supporting their social and environmental missions. Abrams described how the worker cooperative structure at South Mountain Company had helped determine the company’s optimal scale and impact. Turcot described how the ESOP at Gardener’s Supply had smoothed the way for multiple leadership transitions. Both Abrams and Turcot stressed how important it was to build an “ownership culture” and to plan well in advance for a successful transition to employee ownership.
In light of the Business Roundtable’s August 19 Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation, in which conventional corporations embraced a multi-stakeholder model of corporate mission and governance for the first time, the B Corp movement sees this as a pivotal moment to scale and spread the idea of multi-stakeholder business design. Several multi-national corporations, like Unilever, Danone, and Datura have adopted equitable and sustainable business practices after acquiring B Corps subsidiaries, a hopeful sign for the future of sustainable business practices. The Champions Retreat provided an opportunity to share best practices and chart a path forward, capitalizing on this breakthrough at the highest echelons of the global economy.
Sarah Stranahan is senior editorial associate at The Democracy Collaborative and a leading member of its Fifty by Fifty employee ownership team.
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