First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Corey Rosen: Fortunately, we are all healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded NCEO.
Corey Rosen: I started life as an academic, then went to work as a staff member for the U.S. Senate where, in 1978, I learned about employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), a specific kind of employee ownership arrangement in the U.S. It is company funded and holds shares for employees in a trust, where shares are allocated to all employees meeting basic eligibility rules based on relative pay or a more level formula. You can see more about how these plans work in the U.S. here.
At that time, the concept was very new and not used a lot. Today, about 7,000 plans are covering 14 million employees, with over $1.4 trillion in assets. These companies perform better and provide better jobs and wealth security than non-ESOP companies.
I got involved in some of the early legislation to provide incentives for these plans, then, in 1980, started the National Center for Employee Ownership to do research, outreach, networking, and support to help make ESOPs and other forms of broad-based employee ownership thrive.
How does NCEO innovate?
Corey Rosen: We are an extremely collaborative 14-person staff. The staff makes all decisions of any importance as a group. Teams run all projects. Employees with an idea can enlist others to join a group to hash it out. It would be rare for the director to overrule. This has served us extraordinarily well—we have been exceptionally innovative and have essentially no voluntary turnover, which is unheard of for a nonprofit.
We have also always funded ourselves through the work we do (books, conferences, memberships, surveys, etc.) not from grants and contributions. That too is rare for nonprofits.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Corey Rosen: We went to all remote work and will stay mostly that way long term. It has gone very smoothly. 60% of our revenue comes from love meetings; we had to quickly move them to virtual, including a 2,000-person annual conference that was supposed to be held in April. We made the decision four weeks out and had to change that to a virtual event—an enormous lift.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Corey Rosen: Canceling the live events into next year was tough, but the right thing to do. But we made the transition to very impressive virtual events, and they will get better. The lesson was simple—have amazing, empowered, deeply committed people on your staff.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and NCEO in the future?
Corey Rosen: The main stress is over now—we learned we can thrive in this new environment. The bad economy certainly hurts business, but we will end the year doing pretty well anyway. When things do get better, we will be in a very strong position, having added all the skills we did.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Corey Rosen: There are other nonprofits in this space, but we don’t focus on competition. We all have the same goal. We have been around for 40 years, and I have been essentially a full-time volunteer for the last nine (I am 71). I intend to keep doing this as long as I am able because it is the most rewarding thing I can do. It is a joy to have this work that truly makes people’s lives better.
Your final thoughts
Corey Rosen: Do what you love, and you will never have to work.
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