Is Your Company an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) Candidate?

Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) have compelling competitive, financial and legacy benefits. For business owners weighing their exit options, a leveraged ESOP may be feasible if the owner, company and employees possess certain attributes:

Owner Attributes

  1. Owns 30% or more of corporate stock
  2. Has a low basis in the stock
  3. Looking to reduce involvement in the company long term (5+ years) or shorter term if successor(s) are in place to take over
  4. Concerned with employee welfare and wants to reward them by transferring an interest in company stock to them
  5. Wants to sell shares on a tax-deferred basis
  6. Willing to sell for fair market value and forgo the possibility of obtaining a price premium through an M&A sale process

Company / Employee Attributes

  1. Mature, non-cyclical business with strong operating performance (revenue and net margins), past and projected
  2. A balance sheet strong enough to absorb ESOP acquisition debt
  3. Adequate cash flow from operations to cover capital spending needs and debt service for ESOP acquisition and other borrowings
  4. Adequate payroll, say $1,000,000 or more per year
  5. 20+ employees
  6. A participatory management culture, and open and effective communications between employees and management
  7. Strong executive leadership and management bench to succeed long term

ESOPs are costly to set up and comply with IRS and DOL regulations. They are not for everyone. ESOP is a complex area that is not well understood by most CFO’s, attorneys, CPAs and M&A advisors. Be sure to work with specialists.

Use these rules of thumb if you are considering transferring ownership of your company through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. To find help determining the feasibility of an ESOP for your California company, feel free to contact Al Statz at 707-781-8580 or