October 31, 2022

Talking ESOPs Over Beer and Pizza

by Eamon Mulholland, Human Resources Partner and Employee-Owner, Wise Consulting

When I read the post in the January 2022 NCEO newsletter about Union Craft Brewing, a new employee-owned company local to our home office in Baltimore, Maryland, the wheels started turning. We were in the preliminary stages of planning our annual company meeting, which was going to be the first time all of our more than 100 employee-owners would be getting together in person since the pandemic began. We were looking at possible outings, and our ESOP Communications Committee (ECC) pitched the idea of supporting another employee-owned company and having our company outing at Union Craft. The Wise leadership team, including CEO Steve Grem, loved the idea of Wise supporting another local company while celebrating our own employee ownership.

After a few weeks of coordinating with the Union Craft team, we arranged a Wise Consulting takeover of the brewery. This team building event would include games, a facility tour, and of course plenty of beer, food, and some great ESOP discussions. 

Fast-forward to the day of the event. We had two giant charter buses full of Wise employee-owners navigating Baltimore rush hour traffic. When we pulled up, we were welcomed by the amazing staff at Union Craft. They provided a brief introduction and showed us to the beer and food. As everyone started to eat, drink, and mingle, our ECC along with members of our leadership team met with Chris Attenborough, one of the employee-owners at Union Craft Brewing. We had an engaging discussion about our employee ownership structures, some of the similarities, some of the differences, and the value of employee ownership. We discovered that while their structure and reasons for becoming employee-owned were very different from ours, there was one glaring similarity: pride in ownership. The pride the employee-owners from both Wise and Union Craft had in their company, the services they provide, and how they deliver their services reaffirmed my belief that being part of an ESOP is a game-changer.

After sharing a beer and some great conversation with Chris, he offered our team a tour of the facility. He handed us off to one of the most dynamic tour guides I've ever experienced. Her passion and knowledge about beer and Union Craft were unmatched. We learned about their history and path to employee ownership as well as the story and brewing process behind all of their beers. The tour left all of us amazed at what it takes to run a brewery like Union Craft and inspired by their path to employee ownership.

The beer continued to flow, and incredible food was consumed throughout the additional tours. The Wise team had the ability to see faces we haven’t seen in person for years and finally got to meet for the first time about 25% of our staff that had been hired during the pandemic. We had an amazing night and had the ability to build relationships, enjoy great food and drink, and learn a little more about what it means to be employee-owned.

Having the opportunity to support an employee-owned company was a great experience for Wise Consulting, and we’d strongly encourage other ESOP companies to look for opportunities to do the same and share their stories. While you’re likely to uncover some differences, I’m confident you'll find that same pride of ownership. We all know ESOP companies would rather do business with other ESOP companies when the opportunity presents itself, so challenge yourself and your team to look for more of those opportunities.