Joseph Cureton is chief coordinating officer of Obran Cooperative, a cooperative conglomerate that is using traditional business tools to build a portfolio of businesses owned by its members. As part of our series on private equity, Employee Ownership News spoke with Cureton to understand how someone who is using the tools of private equity to build value for coop members viewed private equity’s entrance into the worker ownership space.
Measuring value along multiple axes
At Obran, we value a business along three axes: financial value, use value, and member experience and power. We’re a cooperative, and our goal is to drive positive changes for our members, our customers, and the communities where we spend our lives.
With each of the businesses we acquire and grow, we want to make sure that we are increasing not only the financial value for our membership; the business also needs to be useful to them, it has to empower them. That’s how we are building towards the solidarity economy we want to see.
The alignment of workers’ interests with the goals of the business is even stronger when those workers have a real voice at the table.
I trust that Ownership Works will do the same! I trust that they will measure success not only in terms of financial value, but also in terms of the overall employee experience with an eye towards building their power in the market.
As they are looking to align workers’ interests with the goals of the business, I know they will recognize that alignment is even stronger when those workers have a real voice at the table and a hand on the wheel.
Tools of business can be catalyst for change
The tools of business are often powerful catalysts for change. Giving equity to workers who would otherwise not have access to that wealth-building opportunity is net good. I’m excited to see more folks pile on there. But that alone isn’t enough; I’m also excited to see market actors like KKR experiment with other human-centered business drivers from the cooperative toolkit, like opening a day care for the single moms who they employ or providing down payment assistance for workers seeking to buy homes or maybe putting real money behind racial equity initiatives.
I see this as an opening, an opportunity for the idea of worker ownership to become more mainstream.
I do see this as an opening, an opportunity for the idea of worker ownership to become more mainstream. While we offer a dramatically alternative reality to our employee-members, we also are working with sellers in the lower middle market. The ability to point to name brand private equity shops embracing this strategy is positive. It softens up the market and makes room for alternatives.
Read our entire series on Ownership Workers and the impact of private equity on the employee ownership field.
What the launch of the nonprofit Ownership Works could mean to the employee ownership movement.
Part 1: Can private equity be trusted to prioritize worker benefit?
It seems they’re doing what big capital does: take over a concept like employee ownership and make it their own in order to make more money.
Making modest investments to a non-profit in order to take shelter from the negative public sentiment resulting from the massive and growing wealth inequality in America is a cheap way to diffuse heat.
Part 2: If equity shares increase workers’ productivity, who benefits?
As long as the wealth of GPs grows exponentially faster than that of everyone else, economic inequality will continue to grow.
Offering equity to workers is a good thing, and we can argue later about what share of the pie is most appropriate.
Part 3: Is this real employee ownership?
Ownership Works can be a conversation starter and spur conversations about who is creating the value and who should capture it.
Americans need to better understand the role of Wall Street and private equity in our economy.
This seems like a time of messy growth for employee ownership.
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