Should You Offer Employees Stock Ownership? Four Thoughts

Situation: When an early stage company was founded, the CEO made vague promises of stock ownership to new employees. Some original employees have asked whether and when they will receive ownership. Should the CEO offer stock ownership, and what is the message to employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first question concerns company policy on ownership. For example, what do the founding owners think about expanding the ownership pool? It is important for the founders to have this discussion and agree on official company policy on ownership. This can then be communicated consistently to employees.
  • Investigate practices for similar companies in your industry. If you find that there is a size at which companies typically start to diversify ownership, then have a conversation among the owners as to what your company will do. You don’t have to follow the pack, but you may risk turnover if your policy is significantly different from the industry norm.
  • Employee stock ownership is a double edged sword. Employee shares only receive a true value in a liquidity event – sale of the company or an IPO. Absent a liquidity event, employee stock ownership can complicate corporate decisions, and there’s also the question of the value of an employee’s stock if the employee leaves.
  • If you decide not to expand ownership, what’s the best way to update earlier promises of ownership?
    • Tell the story: stock ownership was one option that we considered. We looked at industry practice, and here’s what we found. We determined that at our size there are few advantages to broad employee ownership, and several potential disadvantages to additional owners including tax consequences. Therefore, we decided that we could achieve our objective more effectively through our profit sharing plan.

2 thoughts on “Should You Offer Employees Stock Ownership? Four Thoughts

  1. Hung Tran

    Do you want regular employees, or do you want all star perfomers? If your asnwer is the later, give them stock options! That’s the ultimate employee motivation tool. Ask any hot technology start-ups in Silicon Valley.
    And yes, you can still maintain control of your cap table and have an occasional company-controlled liquidity event via a tender offer years before you are ready for an IPO. Private company tender offers are becoming more common now.

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