Jeff Mounts: 2019 Employee Owner of the Year

Jeff Mounts, Marketing Manager at ESP International, absolutely loves a certain quote. When you hear it, you understand a lot about Jeff, why he has become an invaluable member of the Communications Committee at ESP International, and why he earned The ESOP Association award for 2019 Employee Owner of the Year.


That quote? It’s from Albert Einstein, who said: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”


Take a look at what Jeff has helped ESP accomplish in a short time, and you see a living representation of that blend of intelligence and fun Einstein so eloquently described.


In the Beginning


When Jeff joined ESP five years ago, he did so based on the recommendation of his college roommate and with the goal of shortening his commute. The ESOP? He had no idea what that was. But he learned quickly. And as a member of the Marketing Department, he soon joined the Communications Committee and became involved in marketing ESP’s ESOP.

Initially, Jeff wanted simply to educate himself, but the committee soon found he was a natural at educating others too. Leveraging his graphics and video skills, Jeff personally produced a series of short videos that are now some of the company’s best ESOP education content.

Later, as co-chair, he led the creation of the committee’s strategic plan and challenged the team to create innovative ideas to educate and engage employee-owners.


Communicating Internally and Externally


ESP’s Communications Committee exists primarily to educate ESP employees about their ESOP and to increase employee owners’ business literacy. But it also works to share information about ESOPs to external audiences. For example, the company has repeatedly and successfully engaged its elected officials in Congress. In fact, Iowa Congressman Dave Loebsack (D-IA-2), has visited ESP locations multiple times.


The group also works externally to educate the community about employee ownership—or, as Jeff puts it, to “make the ESP story public.” He has found that the website has become an incredibly important vehicle for carrying ESP’s message about its ESOP to a broader audience.


One of the ways the company engages the broader community is through its Charitable Foundation. Each year, ESP employees vote for the charity they would like to see the Foundation sponsor. Throughout the year they host fundraisers and donate a majority of the proceeds to that charity; the remaining funds are used to support other local non-profits.
The 2019 Charity of the Year was The Freedom Foundation.


How Does ESP Celebrate EOM?


Another way that ESP educates employees and the community is through its October Employee Ownership Month (EOM) activities. With a full calendar of events planned down to the day, ESP takes EOM to the next level. Activities include an EOM poster competition, company-wide ESOP Trivia Tuesdays, Business Literacy Thursdays, a can drive for charity, and more!


Clearly Jeff and his fellow committee members have taken his favorite quote to heart, using creativity to make business intelligence and ESOP education fun. (For EOM resources check out The ESOP Association’s EOM web page.)


Sharing: Key to Success


One of Jeff’s suggestions is to tap the existing knowledge of employee owners in other companies.


“Don’t be afraid to lean on other employee owned companies,” he says. “The Association has some pretty amazing members who are open to sharing ideas, who are willing to share what worked, what didn’t work.”

Jeff Mounts


He notes that ESP is fortunate to be located in an area with lots of employee owned companies, and he and his fellow employee owners regularly reach out to the region’s employee ownership brain trust. “We do a lot of networking and information sharing,” Jeff says. “We’ve held round tables and attended networking events in between conferences to discuss challenges, opportunities, new ideas.”


His final bit of advice: “Enjoy the fact that your owner decided to sell the company to you, the employee. It’s such a unique and amazing benefit.”

April 2015 ESOP Report is Available

The April 2015 ESOP Report newsletter is now available for members. To access this month’s issue, you’ll need to sign into The ESOP Association’s website. The Member Sign In button is located at the top of the page.

To get to the ESOP Report, click Meet & Learn. A link to the ESOP Report is located on the left side menu.

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The July ESOP Report is Available

The July 2014 ESOP Report is now available for members. To access this month’s issue, you’ll need to sign into The ESOP Association’s website. The Member Sign In button is located at the top of the page. To get to the ESOP Report, click Meet & Learn. A link to the ESOP Report is located on the left side menu.

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April 2014 ESOP Report

April 2014 ESOP Report is now available. To access this month’s issue, you’ll need to sign into the website. The Member Sign In button is located at the top of the page. To get to the ESOP Report, click Meet & Learn. A link to the ESOP Report is located on the left side menu.

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March 2013 ESOP Report Now Available

The March 2013 issue of the ESOP Report is now available for download on The ESOP Association’s website. To download this month’s issue, you’ll need to sign into the website. The Member Sign In button is located at the top of the page. To get to the ESOP Report, click on Meet & Learn. A link to the ESOP Report is located on the left side menu.

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February 2013 ESOP Report Newsletter

The February 2013 issue of the ESOP Report is now available for download on The ESOP Association’s website. To download this month’s issue, you’ll need to sign into the website. The Member Sign In button is located at the top of the page. To get to the ESOP Report, click on Meet & Learn. A link to the ESOP Report is located on the left side menu.

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New Jersey Assemblyman Introduces ESOP Bill

As reported in the January 2013, ESOP Report newsletter, Assemblyman and Deputy Speaker of the New Jersey State Legislature, Upendra J. Chivukula (D), introduced a bill to encourage small businesses to establish ESOPs in December 2012. The bill would provide “…a gross income tax exclusion for certain capital gains from the sale of employer securities to a non-publicly traded business with fewer than 500 employees, whose headquarters or base of operations is in this State, to an employee stock ownership plan, a New Jersey S corporation owned by an employee stock ownership plan…” The bill is very similar to Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad’s ESOP initiative program which passed the Iowa State Legislature in 2012. When additional information about the New Jersey bill becomes available, it will be shared with Association members.

“It’s encouraging to see states considering bills to facilitate ESOP creation,” said ESOP Association President, J. Michael Keeling. “Indiana and Iowa with their respective states’ ESOP Initiatives, and now New Jersey, are leading the way on a state level and clearly see the value employee ownership brings to a company.”

November 2012 ESOP Report

The November 2012 issue of the ESOP Report is now available for download on The ESOP Association’s website. To download this month’s issue, you’ll need to sign into the website. The Member Sign In button is located at the top of the page. To get to the ESOP Report, click on Meet & Learn. A link to the ESOP Report is located on the left side menu.

April 2012 ESOP Report

The April 2012 issue of the ESOP Report newsletter is now available on The ESOP Association’s website. You’ll need to login to the members only section to access your copy. Go to www.esopassociation.org and click on the members only link at the top right corner of the page. The link for the ESOP Report is in the left side menu of the members only section.

Be Respectful: But Be Respected as Well

The following article originally ran in the September 2011 issue of the ESOP Report, the newsletter of The ESOP Association, as the Washington Report column. Archived issues of the ESOP Report can be found in the members only section of the Association’s website.

The ESOP brand among members of Congress who have visited with ESOP companies, or have welcomed ESOP delegations to their Washington offices, is ESOP people are hard working, good Americans, who are civil — in other words, the ESOP brand is just the opposite of the screamers and the insulters.  [Why people think salt is more effective than a little bit of sugar is hard to understand.]

But, in the ESOP community’s fight against the negative ESOP proposal from the Department of Labor (DOL) to make all appraisers of private company ERISA fiduciaries, many ESOP advocates are disappointed with the answers they are receiving from offices of both Senators and members of the House of Representatives in response to their respectful requests that their representative stand up for the pro-ESOP position and against the DOL position.

A brief note of explanation is needed for those not following this campaign closely before setting out what needs to be done by those who are disappointed with the answers they are receiving from their elected Federal officials.

The October 22, 2010, DOL announced a proposal that would redefine who is an ERISA fiduciary, not just appraisers of ESOPs, but anyone who gives advice about where to invest 401(k) money, including what investments to offer, where to put the money the employee invests, and what the employees do with the money, and anyone who does a similar task for those who are setting up, or investing in an Individual Retirement Account, or IRA.

Of the three areas of retirement savings — ESOPs, 401(k)s, and IRAs — the number of ESOPs, and the amount of money in ESOPs, and the number of persons who work in the ESOP service provider arena, is very small compared to the number of persons participating in 401(k)s and IRAs, the amount of money in 401(k) and IRAs, and the number of persons who provide services to 401(k) and IRA participants.

While it took the financial advisor firms, the k plan service providers, the banks holding IRAs, stock brokerage firms with thousands and thousands of people working with clients with IRAs and/or k plans, much longer to wake up to the danger of the DOL proposal than it did the ESOP community — being smaller means often leaner and more nimble — once awake, the k and IRA world have much heavier advocacy power than the ESOP community.

Plus the arguments for stopping the DOL proposal with regard to who is a fiduciary to k plans and IRAs are in several respects very different from the arguments for stopping the DOL ESOP appraiser proposal.  [In some respects they are the same: lack of data supporting the proposed regulation, increase service provider fees, and blatant ignoring of what other Federal agencies, such as the IRS in the ESOP arena, and SEC in the banking/financial arena, do in this area even though there is a Presidential order that agencies coordinate their regulations.]

So what is the point of this column?

In brief, many ESOP advocates have reported to the national office they wrote, or visited, with their elected officials about the DOL proposal, and the response from those officials was about the k and IRA issues, not the ESOP issues.  Some responses are very strong noting the member of Congress is doing all s/he can to stop the bad DOL “k and IRA” proposal.  It is easy to see that the ESOP advocate receiving such a response wants to scream, “I wrote about ESOPs; not k and IRAs!”

Most ESOP advocates have in turn passed along their disappointment with a statement that “what do you expect” from these do nothing, know nothing, silly members of Congress we have these days.

Well, while the cable news that leans to the left says that about Republican members of Congress, and the cable news channel that leans to the right says the same about Democratic members of Congress, the fact is that getting disgusted will not win for the ESOP position.

So, we are adding to our advocacy kit a suggested “second” communication for the ESOP advocates to the member of Congress who has not understood what the ESOP advocate wrote about in the first instance — the ESOP message.

The second letter will be respectful, but will make it clear: an ESOP advocate with an ESOP company deserves to have her/his concerns respectfully considered.

[Candidly, a letter or message from a member of Congress missing the mark is all about bad staff work, but we have to be respectful of staff people as well.]

In other words, the ESOP brand of being civil and respectful will be honored always; but by gosh, what ESOPs do for employees and their companies, and their communities, needs to be respected.