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A Brief History of the NCEOIn 1979, Corey Rosen was working as a professional staff member in the U.S. Senate, where he had been involved in drafting some of the legislation on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). At that time, there were very few plans (they had only been given statutory blessing in 1974) and even less general information about employee ownership. Few company owners or managers understood what an ESOP was and how it might work for them. Among people engaged in employee ownership, there was no reliable research on what made some plans work well and others poorly. Rosen was convinced that if more people knew about the idea, more people would find it attractive, and that if there were more research on what made plans effective, more companies would use them for the benefit of their employees and their other shareholders.
Rosen decided that to create this broader awareness, an organization needed to be created devoted to that purpose. In 1980, he resolved to create the "National Center for Employee Ownership" (NCEO). His initial thought was that foundations would provide funding, and during the last half of 1980, while still working full-time in the Senate, he prepared grant applications. In November 1980, the Democrats lost control of the Senate, meaning that in January, Rosen would be unemployed. That event, not surprisingly, focused his attention on moving the NCEO forward. In December, Rosen incorporated the NCEO as a nonprofit organization, and in 1981 it started functioning. Rosen was able to get a part-time consulting job to bring in some income, and he began to generate materials on employee ownership to make available. Karen Young, who had worked on the same committee in the Senate, joined him in this effort, also on an unpaid basis.
The grant applications yielded no results. Foundations were not impressed with an organization with no paid staff, a few manuscripts in process, an office in an 8-by-10-foot room in Rosen's basement, and an idea almost no one had ever heard of. Undaunted, Rosen and Young pursued the other track they had been exploring, namely to seek members, sell publications, and, eventually, to hold seminars and conferences. They wrote and had printed a first issue of a newsletter and put together a resource guide on employee ownership. The newsletter and a membership appeal was mailed to prospective members, culled from lists of people other people shared with the NCEO. By the end of 1981, the NCEO had about 200 members. It also had two publications: the resource guide and a general publication called The Employee Ownership Reader. Work with the media had yielded a number of favorable stories, which generated inquiries. Some of these people joined or bought the book. At year's end, revenues were about $27,000.
Over the ensuing years, membership grew gradually, the list of publications expanded, media coverage increased, and the NCEO received a grant to do a research project. By 1983, the NCEO was self-sustaining; by the mid-1980s, it had grown to five staff people and about 1,000 members. In the 1990s, the NCEO expanded to cover stock options and purchase plans as well as ESOPs. It launched a Web site at ESOP.org and then switched to NCEO.org in 1996. Today, it has 11 employees; over 3,000 members; an extensive list of publications, workshops, and conferences; and a budget of well over $1 million. Its work now covers international equity plans as well as U.S.-only plans, and it has done a number of projects abroad.