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The Employee Ownership Update

Corey Rosen

May 14, 1997

(Corey Rosen)

Participation Plus Ownership Does Not Yield Higher Stock Prices in Public Companies

Over the period 1991 through 1996, the ACS employee ownership index has measured the shareholder returns in public companies with 10% or more broad employee ownership. The index has substantially outperformed market averages. Other studies of employee ownership and corporate performance indicate that it is the combination of broad ownership and employee participation that accounts for most of the performance gains employee ownership companies demonstrate. It seemed reasonable, therefore, that public companies that combined broad ownership and participation would do even better than those with broad ownership alone.

To assess this, the NCEO first surveyed 315 of the 350 companies in the ACS index to determine which had participative management practices. Results were published in a previous issue of the newsletter, showing that these companies were no more participative than non-employee ownership companies. Then Joseph Blasi and Douglas Kruse of Rutgers, who initially developed the ACS index, analyzed the 82 companies responding to the survey to determine if those with higher levels of participation had greater returns to shareholders than those with lower levels. The results indicated that participation had no effect at all.

There could be several explanations for the findings. The relatively small sample size could be producing skewed data. The participation measures, although standard measures used in major national studies, may not really be getting at the essence of participation. Perhaps more likely, this study may help confirm what other studies of public companies have found: very, very few make any effort to link employee ownership to participation systems, even if they have them, or to take any steps to create an "ownership culture," one that explicitly links employee involvement with financial information sharing and employee involvement in decision making. Few public companies think of themselves as "employee ownership" companies or make much effort to promote the concept to employees. Participation and ownership structures are just ships passing in the night. By contrast, ownership cultures seem common in closely held companies.

The study was partially funded by Legg Mason, a Baltimore brokerage firm. For a detailed summary of the data, contact the NCEO.

New Study on Why Democratic ESOPs Sometimes Fail

A new study by the Ohio Employee Ownership Center indicates that employee control of companies at the board level does not account for the cases where these companies have failed. The researchers identified 38 companies over the last 25 years that were majority employee owned, had full employee voting rights, and that failed. Interviews were conducted with representatives from labor, management, and consultants at 17 of these companies. The study found that, in general, labor-management relations improved after the buyouts, but that many companies had poor management, failed to fill key positions, or even had illegal dealings. More important, almost all the companies were in serious trouble when acquired. There was no indication, however, that the enhanced worker role at the board level was a cause of failure.

The most difficult problem, the researchers concluded, was that many companies simply had overoptimistic feasibility studies indicating they could survive when, in retrospect, chances for success were very small.

Employees Save Biddeford, Maine, Textile Plant

The 370 employees of a Maine textile plant that makes blankets for Sunbeam electric blankets have bought their company from Sunbeam. Sunbeam has undergone radical downsizing in the last year. The Biddeford plan is sole supplier and will continue to be. Employees, who are represented by the textile worker union UNITE, will own one-third of the plant, with one third owned by American Capital Strategies, which engineered the transaction, and one third by a Maine investor.

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