Ownership Transitions: ESOPs Compared to Other Strategies

There are three traditional ownership succession strategies: sell to an insider, sell to an outsider and "till death do us part." I will discuss each of these traditional options and compare each of them to an ESOP.

Performance Stock Options in Broad-Based Plans

Almost all stock options issued under broad-based stock options plans are either nonqualified stock options (NSOs) or incentive stock options (ISOs). These plans qualify for fixed price accounting, so they do not show up on the company's income statement at the time they are granted.

Phantom Stock and Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs)

For many companies, the route to employee ownership is through a formal employee ownership plan such as an ESOP, 401(k) plan, stock option, or employee stock purchase plan (ESPPs—a regulated stock purchase plan with specific tax benefits).

Red Flags in ESOP Transactions

ESOPs are an extraordinarily effective tool for business ownership transitions as well as creating productive ownership cultures. According to the NCEO's 2015 ESOP transaction survey, 92% of ESOP companies are happy with their ESOP transactions.

Research on Employee Ownership

A large body of research explores the effects of employee ownership on firms and workers. This page provides a guide to key findings.

Restricted Stock and Direct Stock Purchase Plans

Restricted stock and direct stock purchase plans have become increasingly popular as ways to compensate employees. Often used just for key employees, they also can be used more broadly.

Sharing Equity in a Startup or Established Entrepreneurial Venture

It's easy to get lots of technical information about stock options, restricted stock, stock appreciation rights, phantom stock, performance shares, and other equity sharing tools. It's also easy to find guidelines for executive ownership of equity in public companies.

Steps to Setting Up an ESOP

If you have decided an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) is worth investigating, there are several steps to take to implement a plan. At each point, you may decide you have gone far enough and that an ESOP is not right for you.