10 Inspiring Employee-Owned Businesses You Should Know

Rachel Zurer September 5, 2016

1 MONDRAGON Corporation

Headquarters: Basque region, Spain

Established: 1956

Number of employees: 74,335

Ownership model: Federation of worker cooperatives

MONDRAGON is the world’s biggest and most successful worker cooperative, with 260 companies around the globe, 103 of which are cooperatives. Its first product was paraffin heaters, but it now operates in sectors that include finance, manufacturing, retail, and knowledge. Founded by a Catholic priest, the company values education, work, and solidarity above all else.

2 Cooperative Home Care Associates

Headquarters: Bronx, NY

Established: 1985

Number of employees: 2,200+

Ownership model: Worker cooperative

The largest worker cooperative in the US provides free training, full-time hours, and competitive wages to its staff of almost entirely African-American and Latina women. In 2012, it became a B Corp, and continues to provide high-quality opportunities in home healthcare, one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the US.

3 Seikatsu Club Consumers’ Cooperative Union

Headquarters: Tokyo, Japan

Established: 1965 (worker cooperatives in 1982)

Number of employees: 10,400

Ownership model: Federation of consumer cooperatives

The Seikatsu Club is primarily a consumer buying co-op with 360,000 members. But it now also incorporates more than 400 worker cooperatives in food distribution, food preparation, catering, recycling, childcare, education, and more.

4 Equal Exchange

Headquarters: West Bridgewater, MA

Established: 1986 (became a worker cooperative in 1990)

Number of employees: 145 (120 worker-owners)

Ownership model: Worker cooperative

Equal Exchange helped introduce Fair Trade coffee to the US in the 1980s. Now, the cooperative imports and sells coffee, tea, chocolate, and more from around the world. Each year, worker-owners reinvest 60 percent of net profits in the co-op. (Read our previous interview with the company: bit.ly/issue2_ee.)

5 Evergreen Cooperatives

Headquarters: Cleveland, OH

Established: 2008

Number of employees: 118

Ownership model: Federation of worker cooperatives

After the most recent major recession, a group of major Cleveland-area nonprofits, hospitals, and universities came together to create a portfolio of businesses to try to alleviate poverty in some of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods. Though much-hailed at inception, some of the businesses — especially the laundry and greenhouse — struggled to deliver on their promises of self-sustaining wealth generation. That’s improving, and in 2017 Evergreen will begin planning its fourth cooperative project.

Bob’s Red Mill founder Bob Moore.

6 Bob’s Red Mill

Headquarters: Milwaukie, OR

Established: 1978 (employee ownership began in 2010)

Number of employees: 200+

Ownership model: ESOP (100 percent)

In honor of his 81st birthday, company founder Bob Moore presented his employees with an ESOP program that gave them full ownership in the organic whole-grain products company he’d built. Since then, the company has expanded its line of grains and flours to more than 400 products.

7 Publix

Headquarters: Lakeland, FL

Established: 1930

Number of employees: 182,500

Ownership model: ESOP (30 percent)

This southeastern grocery chain is the largest US company that counts employees as a majority of its shareholders. It’s had some form of employee profit sharing since it began, even during the Great Depression. Publix now contributes an average of 9 percent of wages to employee ESOP accounts each year. Fortune has awarded the chain a spot on its “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since the list started in 1988.

Publix workers are employee owners.

8 Herman Miller Inc.

Headquarters: Zeeland, MI

Established: 1905 (employee ownership began in 1977)

Number of employees: 8,000

Ownership model: ESOP

Best known for the Aeron chair, this furniture and design company includes employee ownership in its list of commitments to corporate social responsibility. All full-time employees with 30 days of service are entitled to own stock in the company through the Employees’ Stock Purchase Plan.

9 Lifetouch

Headquarters: Eden Prairie, MN

Established: 1936 (employee ownership began in 1977)

Number of employees: 15,400

Ownership model: ESOP (100 percent)

This photography company specializing in school photography and family portraits is the largest 100 percent employee-owned business in the US. With an ESOP trust valued at $1.6 billion as of 2014, the plan paid $148 million to 9,200 active participants in 2014.

Gore employees.

10 W. L. Gore & Associates Inc.

Headquarters: Newark, DE

Established: 1958 (employee ownership began in 1974, as soon as it was enabled by the Employment Retirement Income Security Act)

Number of employees: 10,000+

Ownership model: ESOP (90 percent of company is owned by employees)

Best known as the makers of GORE-TEX waterproof fabrics, the Gore company has a particularly egalitarian culture, with associates working mainly in teams. Fortune has named it one of the best 100 places to work in the US for 19 years straight. Meanwhile, the company brings in worldwide revenues of around $3 billion a year.

Stakeholder Capitalism
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