Homeschooling at the National ESOP Conference? As they say, you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Teaching and learning at home can be an added strain on employees and business owners. However, a well-executed pivot by the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) in just a matter of weeks after the declaration of a pandemic and shelter in place order, turned their April Annual Conference into a deeper and more satisfying virtual conference.
Virtual Annual Conference
The conference took place on a virtual conference platform. Not the chat and conference call apps most people are using these days for video calls. Maybe not a best-selling gaming app, but pretty darn good. Granted, attendees couldn’t mingle, network, and meet at the cocktail receptions, but the presentations were streamed live with real-time questions and answers. It was a pretty nifty replication of a real conference learning experience.
Sessions covered everything including the basics of ESOPs, leadership and governance, communication, culture, strategic planning, growing value, corporate finance, capital structures, and legal issues. I thought the presentation content was in most cases actually better than live, in-person conferences because of the ability for the presenters to layout in complete detail the points they wanted to convey.
The Employee-Owner’s Crisis Survival Kit
What was on my hit parade? I particularly liked the responsiveness of the content to the current crisis. As you may imagine, panels addressed how ESOPs need to react, adapt, and be managed to respond to the current economic disruption.
One of the opening sessions dug right in with a proactive program called “The Employee-Owner’s Crisis Survival Kit: You’ve Never Needed Your Employee-Owners More than Now”. The panel covered how to forge a culture of resilience and ownership, safe cultures during a crisis situation, and how to regain control of your company forecast by engaging the wisdom of the crowd.
This gets to the heart of what makes great ESOP companies great. They harness the wisdom and drive of their employee-owners. NCEO data shows that ESOP companies perform better, in general, and particularly in past recessions. They are more resilient with dramatically lowered turnover rate, and lower layoff rates. We are seeing signs that the same holds true this time around.
I also liked the technical sessions dealing with recent changes in the law and looking back at some of the more prominent ESOP litigation situations. You must bear in mind that there really hasn’t been much ESOP litigation resulting in awards or judgments against ESOP companies. It’s a bit overblown as fear and rumor. NCEO’s research and data show that a large share of the damages occurred in about a dozen well-publicized ESOP cases.
The panels looked back and looked forward to do a really good job of spotting and discussing trends and protective measures to avoid overzealous regulators. One presentation included a comprehensive, point by point overview explaining ESOP cases involving valuations and appraisals. Great insight is available with lessons learned to allow successful ESOP companies to be ahead of the game.
There were too many sessions to attend in the real-time timeslots. However, they are available to watch on-demand. Looking back a lifetime ago at the early ESOP conferences, this used to be done by selling cassette tapes of the sessions. It looks like we finally arrived back where we were before.
All in all, the conference demonstrated that the NCEO is leading the field by bringing to the table exactly what ESOP companies and their advisors need. There was something in the conference for everyone. Whether you are a CEO, CFO, CPA TPA, CFA, ASA, or JD, you really should check out the library of conference materials available from NCEO at annualconference.nceo.org.