Real Leaders

Searching for a ‘Forever’ Job That Will Boost Your Bank Account? Look for Ownership

If you’re at the point where you’re trying to find a forever job — one that will secure your financial future — we have a suggestion. Several suggestions, in fact.

If you want to work in the grocery business and you live in the Southeast, check out Publix Super Markets. If you’re in the Mountain States, see whether there’s a WinCo Foods around.

Or suppose you’re in construction. In Dallas, contact TDIndustries, a big mechanical contractor. In St. Louis and elsewhere, look up McCarthy Building Companies. In California, check out Swinerton.

What about manufacturing? New England residents should look at Hypertherm, headquartered in New Hampshire. Or Web Industries, based in Massachusetts.

All these companies have one thing in common: they’re employee owned. Get a job there, and—after a probation period—you, too, will be an owner.

The companies we just named, moreover, are only the tip of a good-sized iceberg. All told, there are more than 6,000 enterprises in the U.S. that are substantially or wholly owned by the people on the payroll. They’re in every state of the union and in most industries.

These companies have what’s known as an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, which is a kind of retirement plan. Employees of ESOP companies generally get shares in the business every year they work for the company. Those shares come at no cost—they’re a benefit, paid on top of your wage or salary. The ESOP holds your shares in trust until you leave or retire.

The financial magic of ESOPs

The magic here is that those shares typically increase in value as a company grows. Put that value hike together with more shares every year, and you’re talking real money. At WinCo Foods and other companies, some hourly employees have retired with more than a million bucks. Right now, the average worker in U.S. companies with ESOPs has $132,000 in a retirement account. Long-timers are likely to have considerably more.

Sound good? There’s more. ESOP companies typically take ownership seriously. They’re more likely than others to treat you like an owner: sharing information with you about the business and soliciting your ideas for on-the-job improvements.

By the way, these are not mom-and-pop operations. Most ESOP companies are thriving businesses with dozens or hundreds of employees. The biggest, Publix, has more than 200,000 workers. Fortune magazine has named it a great place to work every year since 1994.

So here’s what to do if you want to be an owner as well as an employee:

Learn more about ESOPs. The National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO), a nonprofit headquartered in Oakland, California, has a lot of good introductory material, including a colorful free booklet called “Employee Ownership: Building a Better Economy.” It describes how the whole thing works.

Explore the ESOP Map of the U.S., provided by the NCEO. The map shows ESOP companies throughout the country, color-coded by industry. It’s fully searchable; you can zoom in on any region you like and find ESOP companies.

Research those businesses and see whether any of them fit with your skills and interests. Be warned: ESOP companies tend to have much lower turnover than other businesses, so it can be hard to get hired. But now is a great time to be looking. And if you show the company that you’re knowledgeable about employee ownership and interested in becoming an owner, you’ll have a leg up.

If you can’t find any fits with ESOP companies, don’t give up: many companies have other programs that provide employees with stock or stock options. If you have marketable skills, you’re in a strong position right now to get the kind of job you want. Ask the interviewer whether the company shares stock or offers option grants, and if so, whether the awards go to everyone on the payroll or just a few top executives.

The bottom line

Most Americans expect to be wage earners all their lives. That’s not so bad if you’re a high earner, like a doctor or a data scientist. But many people’s wages have been stagnant for decades, and raises in recent years haven’t kept up with inflation. If you want to build a secure future with a great forever job, you’re better off being an owner, not just a hired hand.

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