For five days, Steve Elias didn’t even open the unsolicited acquisition offer.
Although he wanted to sell his three Green Bay businesses, Elias worried about how a new owner — particularly one looking to consolidate within the industry — might treat his 70 employees. So instead of responding to the sender, Elias remembered a presentation he had heard several years earlier and picked up the phone.
Six months later, Elias is still running his companies, but they’ve been sold to OwnersEdge Inc., a Brookfield-based employee stock ownership plan holding company that is looking to invest in and build companies in the Midwest.
The presentation Elias remembered was made by Lisa Reardon, president, chief executive officer and chairwoman of OwnersEdge. Reardon had talked about business owners’ succession planning, and about how her company sought diversification through acquisitions of companies with leaders such as Elias who want to continue running their businesses.
Since the OwnersEdge acquisition in April, Elias says he has continued to run and expand Baycom, along with Baycom Cellular, which sells cellphones and other equipment from two retail stores, and Tour Guide Solutions, which sells wireless tour guide and conferencing equipment to manufacturers, museums and attractions.
But OwnersEdge now handles all of the financial and administrative responsibilities, Elias said. And because it is an ESOP, all of Elias’ employees have the chance to be part-owners.
“An ESOP in a successful company can generate substantial long-term benefits for employees,” said Chris Mercer, chief executive officer of Mercer Capital, a Memphis, Tenn.-based business valuation firm that has had an ESOP in place since 2006.
About 60% of people who are selling businesses start out saying they’d like to sell to their employees, said Linda Mertz, chief executive officer of Mertz Associates Inc., in Rubicon, and a 30-year veteran of the mergers and acquisitions industry. But the rules and legal work involved in forming an ESOP appear daunting, so it often “just stalls out, and they end up selling to a third-party buyer,” she said.
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