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NCEO Data Sources on Employee Ownership

The National Center for Employee Ownership has a number of data sources for scholars on employee ownership. Most of the resources are lists of companies, but we also have a detailed survey of more than 10,000 employee-owners at more than 50 employee ownership companies, mostly, but not entirely, ESOPs, that has been done for about 20 years. Details on how to access these data are at the end of this article.


Majority ESOP-Owned Companies

This list of over 1,000 companies in which an ESOP owns a majority of the shares has been compiled over 20 years from newspaper clippings and other public sources. It has been continuously updated, and in mid-2009, the NCEO extensively revised and improved the list, checking every entry against currently available information. A further extensive update will be available by May of 2011.

The list does not attempt to be comprehensive, but instead builds on publicly available information. It provides a contact name, company name, address, phone number, and, in most cases, basic data about sales and employment.

The list is in Microsoft Excel format and is sent via email.

Minority ESOP-Owned Companies

This list of about 700 companies in which an ESOP owns a minority of the shares has been compiled over 20 years from newspaper clippings and other public sources. It has been continuously updated, and in mid-2009, the NCEO extensively revised and improved the list, checking every entry against currently available information. A further extensive update will be available by May of 2011.

The list does not attempt to be comprehensive, but instead builds on publicly available information. It provides a contact name, company name, address, phone number, and, in most cases, basic data about sales and employment.

The list is in Microsoft Excel format and is sent via email.

U.S. ESOP Company Database

The NCEO compiles databases of ESOP companies from data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor. These databases are now available for purchase, either for the entire United States or for a specific region. Each database is provided as a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel format and includes a brief codebook describing the data and how to use it.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) collects information every year on qualified retirement plans on its Form 5500 and schedules. The DOL now makes the full database of 5500 information publicly available in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. You can download the data yourself at this link, but many users find it very difficult to figure out how to identify ESOP companies properly.

The current database includes over 6,000 ESOP companies, approximately two-thirds of the total number we believe are currently in existence. These companies are drawn from the year 2008 filings of Form 5500, downloaded in August 2010. Not all ESOPs are on this list: data is missing for some companies during every filing year and some 2008 data is not yet in the raw data file from the Department of Labor.

ESPP and Other Broad-Based Equity Plan List

Through a painstaking process of checking individual company Web sites and corporate filings, the NCEO has compiled a list of the largest 1,500 U.S. companies, plus companies that we had previously identified as possibly having plans from prior research and press clippings that have broad-based equity plans. Of the 1,821 companies that we researched, we could confirm that 131 offer options to most or all employees, 22 offer other kinds of broad-based equity (of these, six offer options as well), and 498 have employee stock purchase plans (ESPPs). We suspect that some of the other companies on the list also have plans, but do not indicate that in their filings or in the careers section of their Web site.

The list is provided in an Excel spreadsheet listing the name of the company and the type of plan, if any.

List of ESOP and Broad-Based Equity Awards in Major Public Companies

This list shows which of the 900 largest publicly traded companies (the S&P 500 and the S&P mid-cap 400) have various forms of employee ownership, including stock options, stock purchase plans, ESOPs, 401(k) plans, and more. Developed with support from the Heron Foundation, this project is unique because it relies on a labor-intensive process to gather and link data from public data sources, the SEC, company materials and the Department of Labor.

Based on Form 5500 filings (DOL), we found that 24% of the companies in the index have ESOPs or KSOPs (combinations of 401(k) plans and ESOPs). Of these, the slightly less than one-third have plans that own more than 5% of the company's outstanding shares. In addition, 33% percent of the companies on the list have stand-alone 401(k) plans that have company stock.

To identify other forms of broad employee ownership, we examined the careers section of each company's Web site to see whether they indicated they offered some kind of broad-based equity grants or stock purchase plan. We identified 306 companies with employee stock purchase plans (ESPPs), as well as companies with broad-based option plans and other forms of equity compensation.

The list is provided in the form of an Excel spreadsheet and a PDF document that explains the list's methodology. The list contains the company name, stock ticker, type of plan, value of company stock in a defined contribution plans, and whether there is some other form of broad equity plan available. For ESOPs and 401(k) plans, we identify roughly what percentage of the company's stock is held by the plan.

The NCEO Employee Surveys

The NCEO's Employee Ownership Survey database contains over 15,000 responses from employees at 91 employee-owned companies in the US performed over the last 20 years. The survey is designed to measure employee perceptions and beliefs in 13 category areas, such as plan understanding, entrepreneurship, trust in leadership, work atmosphere, and ownership concept understanding. In addition, the database also includes longitudinal data for some participating companies that have periodically administered the survey to their workforces. The survey captures employee perceptions on over 150 items, but cannot provide an objective measurement of actual understanding or employee behaviors. In addition, the database does collect some limited information on company demographics, such as employee count, geographic region, and industry. The database does not contain employee response data from non-employee-owned companies for comparison.

Contact us at for details.

The Employee Ownership 100

We have been compiling a list of the largest 100 majority employee owned companies since the 1990s. The large majority of these companies are ESOPs, but some are owned directly by most employees of a company or are owned through some other kind of employee benefit trust. While we believe that each year's list includes the large majority of companies that meet this definition, we can only compile it based on personal knowledge of the company and press clippings. Government data do not indicate how much of a company an ESOP or other plan owns.

The list includes the company name, business, type of plan, location, and number of employees based either on direct contact with the company or, if they do not respond, the latest data from public sources such as Dun & Bradstreet. Every year the list appears on our newsletter for members, and the current list is always provided in The Employee Ownership 100: America's Largest Majority Employee-Owned Companies (at no charge). Past lists, dating back to 1997, are available at no charge to NCEO members by accessing the newsletter archive in the members-only area of this site. The list could be used to track employment changes at these companies over time as well as to generate names for further research. Virtually all of the companies on the lists are closely held.

The Best Places to Work Employee Ownership List

Since 2006, the March/April or May/June issue of the NCEO newsletter has listed the companies on the annual Fortune magazine "Best 100 Companies to Work For" list that have some kind of broad-based stock plan (ESOP, stock options or other individual equity, or employee stock purchase plan). Generally, about 40 of the organizations on the list (or about 55% of the organizations on the list that are not nonprofits or professional partnerships) have some kind of plan. Companies must have at least 1,000 employees to be on the list. A majority of public, but many are not.

Members can access the list, which indicates the company and the kind of plan, through the newsletter archive in the members-only area.

ESOP Acquisitions

We started a list of ESOP companies who acquire other companies since 2008. It is not based on any comprehensive search but rather news stories we find through Google Alerts. We have over 125 examples of acquisitions, list the ESOP company, its business, the company it acquired, its size (if know) and the date of the acquisition. The list could be used as a basis to study, through surveys and field work, how these transactions have worked out. The companies are all closely held.

What We Don't Know

Corporate Performance

While the studies on corporate performance have left most researchers fairly convinced that employee ownership and employee participation result in improved performance, we do not know a great deal about the texture of these results. What kinds of employee involvement work best? How durable are the changes? Do they plateau over time, for instance? In public companies, do ESOPs that are essentially just substitutes for 401(k) contributions, as many are, make any difference in performance, pro or con? In the equity plan area, we know even less. Do equity plans improve employee tenure or motivation? Do these companies have significantly different management cultures than comparable companies, and does that affect performance? Is there a threshold level for benefits from these plans to engage employees?

Employee Attitudes Toward Ownership

Employee attitudes toward ESOPs were well measured in the 1986 NCEO study described above, but that study is aging and attitudes may have changed. We also have little information about employee attitudes toward ownership through stock option plans or 401(k) plans, both of which rely on very different mechanisms to enable employees to become owners.

Characteristics of Employee Ownership Companies

While we know a lot about the demographic characteristics of ESOP companies, we do not know much about whether these companies are more or less participative in their management styles than non-ESOP companies, a critical question given the thrust of the research to date. Only the Ohio study in 1994 provides good data on this, but much more work is needed.

We also know very little about the typical financial structure of ESOP companies, nor are there any recent national data on plan characteristics such as voting rights, board representation, leveraging, annual contributions to the plan, etc. since the 1987 GAO study.

We have very limited information about employee ownership through 401(k) plans (other than a very preliminary NCEO survey) or stock option plans stock purchase plans (section 423 plans). There are good surveys of the characteristics of these plans (see the NCEO issue brief The State of Broad-Based Equity Plans for a review, but efforts to do employee surveys in these companies have not gotten very far. Few companies have been willing to agree to participate, and the costs of undertaking them are substantial.

Getting the Data and Other Problems

Data on the economic performance of public companies are available from a variety of sources, but data on private companies, other than sales and employment (available from Dun and Bradstreet), are not. Few private companies will provide financial data, making studies that rely on productivity, profits, stock prices, return on assets, or other measures, essentially impossible. "Date of plan announcement" data (for public company studies on market reactions to the stock price) can be obtained from annual reports. Because most broad-based equity plans are in public companies, good economic analyses would be possible if reasonable lists of companies and were available and information on plan start dates was included. Unfortunately, such lists do not exist and must be tediously compiled looking at one company at a time and hoping they reveal something about their plans.

One common problem in research on employee ownership is that it is often driven by data accessibility rather than the most interesting problems. For instance, a number of papers try to assess ESOPs in terms of results from public companies, but only 3% of all ESOPs are in public companies, the plans typically own less than 5% of the stock, and few are integral parts of corporate culture. In closely held ESOPs, the plans typically own at least 30% of the stock, about 40% own a majority, and the pans are commonly an important part of corporate culture. By compiling all these resources, we hope to help make this process easier for researchers to look at these questions instead.

Data on plan characteristics other than what is on the 5500 form must come from surveys. Survey response rates tend to fall between 5% and 25%, creating sample reliability issues.

Call Us

We will be happy to speak with you about your project. If you are not an NCEO member, of course, this will be only a preliminary talk; you'll want to join the NCEO if you intend to do any sort of serious research in this field. Balancing what we need to know and what we can realistically find out is difficult, but we can at least help you avoid common errors.

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