After meeting with CoopFund, where in addition to understanding their model we learned of their support for Worker Buy Outs, we met with Arbizzi Cooperative Society. This is a packaging company whose founding owner sold the company to his employees who mutualized this small business and run it as a worker co-operative.
They spoke of their challenges in shifting their mindset from employees working 9-5 to worker-owners who run the company and make key decisions together. It took quite a bit of effort from the owner, the staff and their financial partners to make it all happen, but the results are extraordinary.
In Emilia-Romagna, similar to BC, most people are employed by small businesses. We are expecting a Silver Tsunami, a wave of retiring age small business owners who either started their business, or who took it over from their parents. In many cases the children of these owners don’t want to run the business. They are seeking a transition, selling the company to keep their life’s work intact.
In places like Vermont (go Matt!), we see success of worker co-op succession of small businesses. In these businesses, the people who tend to know the current state, operations, challenges and opportunities best are the staff. They are in a unique position to run it together and share in profits from their labour. Business successIon like this serves many purposes: it fits what many young people want from workplaces today, it creates greater entrepreneurialism, it serves to mutualize part of the economy for future generations, and it spreads wealth and profits more equitably amongst staff.
This has been a big focus for CoopFund, who have done 60 Worker Buy Outs since 2008, and most of those since 2012. Most of these companies have 15-20 employees. If you do the math, admittedly, that’s only 1,200 people who have been impacted since 2008, which doesn’t sound like much. But when we think of that kind of impact, there are a lot of downstream benefits that need to be considered, like the suppliers who don’t lose a contract causing them financial hardship, the purchasing power of all those new worker-co-operatives to purchase for their needs, and the families who don’t suffer from loss of employment.
I think this is a great opportunity, directly relevant to BC, as we face a similar societal pressure. We just need some intrepid business owner looking towards retirement to give it a shot to see how it can work and then promote the model to others to try and replicate it.