Why employee ownership matters

Why employee ownership matters

We went from three owners to more than 300. Shared ownership lives at the heart of everything we do.

What would it look like if companies were truly transparent? Shortly after Rosie Wawrzyniak joined King Arthur Flour, the company had a bad month. The leadership team got in front of the whole company and explained the situation. Flour prices were rising, a distributor cancelled an order, and sales would likely take a hit.

Rather than worry, Rosie celebrated. "This is amazing," she remembers thinking. "What other company is this transparent?" Armed with facts (rather than rumors) and real financial statements (rather than vague generalities), everyone worked together to figure out how the company would bounce back. And it did. Departments innovated, the distributor signed on again, and the company kept growing.

This open-book approach to leadership is a core tenet of King Arthur Flour. After all, the leadership team wasn't just talking to its employees; it was speaking with fellow owners.

Since 2004, King Arthur Flour has been 100% employee owned.

Since 2004, King Arthur Flour has been 100% employee owned. After a year on the job, workers begin to earn stock in the company. This nest egg helps employee-owners secure a better retirement and gives them a clear interest in the company's success.

"Because everyone has a stake in it, we know we're working not just for the company but for ourselves," says Rosie, who's part of the merchandise team that selects which products King Arthur Flour sells. "No matter what, people feel like they can speak up and ask questions and offer advice."

Rosie often sees this collaborative culture firsthand. As a company full of bakers, many employee-owners share their latest discoveries with the merchandise team. If someone finds a better kitchen gadget, a clever new cookbook, or a pantry staple at a lower price — anything that will improve the experience of baking for our customers — those products can wind up in a future catalog or in our online store.

As an employee-owned company, we're not beholden to outside shareholders who care only about the bottom line.

As an employee-owned company, we're not beholden to outside shareholders who care only about the bottom line. We have the freedom to emphasize other values, too, like social and environmental responsibility, and the wellness and satisfaction of our employee-owners. That's why King Arthur shares its profits both inside and outside the company. We invest in sustainability, support community groups nationwide, and offer every employee 40 hours of paid volunteering time per year.

The ability to live these values is what first attracted Jesse Cloutier to King Arthur Flour. Jesse works on the digital engagement team, which responds to thousands of customer questions and comments each month on social media, King Arthur's blog, and our recipe archive. He wanted to work for a national business with the heart of a nonprofit.

"I feel very mission-driven, very values-driven," he says. "I saw this as joining a company that has resources and could accomplish things — put its money into the environment. To make a real change, it can't just be small guys doing it. It has to be big guys showing up, too."

As King Arthur Flour surpasses 300 employee-owners, several have worked here for more than 20 years. Even among younger hires, turnover feels low, says Jesse. He sees many people his age hop from company to company every few years, but at King Arthur, they tend to stick around.

"It's not like no one here looks at other options, but I do think that employee ownership creates a different mentality and a different incentive," he says. "I think people feel more empowered to shape their future here — to be a part of something that is considering them, their well being, and their career."

Julie Porter sees that solidarity play out everyday. As a member of the warehouse team, she observes people swoop in to help frazzled or frustrated coworkers — and rally together during life's bigger moments: "If somebody on the team gets breast cancer," she says, "everybody comes together and rocks pink for an entire week before her surgery to show her that we're here to support her. That happened in the warehouse last week."

Inspired by King Arthur's culture of employee ownership, Julie joined the New England chapter of the ESOP Association. The group acts as a resource for employee-owned companies, works with lawmakers to explain the impact these businesses can have, and encourages other companies to join the movement.

"These jobs are not going to be sent overseas when it's an employee-owned company," adds Rosie. "That's why politicians, no matter what side of the aisle they're on, they always support employee owned companies. You know, people really care about getting meat from happy cows or happy chickens; why would you not want products from happy people? Customers benefit when they're getting a better quality product from happy people."