JAVĿ¼ Family Business Program: Butler/Till, Stewart’s Shops Headline Symposium Exploring Employee Stock Ownership Plans

August 15, 2023

This fall, JAVĿ¼’s Family Business Program will host an entrepreneurship and family business symposium focused on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), a business ownership model that represents a profound shift in how companies operate, turning employees into owners of the companies for which they work.

People sit around a table during a meeting.

“Exiting with Grace,” will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at The Country Club of Rochester (2935 East Ave, Rochester, NY). Designed for entrepreneurs and family business owners/stakeholders, the symposium features insightful talks and panels with business owners from Rochester-based marketing agency Butler/Till and convenience store and gas station chain Stewart’s Shops three-generation family firm. Legal and financial experts will also explore the unique advantages of ESOPs.

“Many family business owners are considering exit strategies, which are inevitable in business, and also best done with ample planning time and thoughtful advisors,” said Dr. Carol Wittmeyer, director of JAVĿ¼’s Family Business Program and a visiting associate professor in the School of Business. “Our region is home to firm leaders who have exited with an ESOP strategy and national ESOP experts who will deliver an interactive program.”

At the symposium, Wittmeyer will be joined by featured speakers including Tracy Till, former co-CEO and chairman, Butler/Till; Melissa Palmer, former CFO, Butler/Till and adjunct professor at JAVĿ¼; Gary Dake, president, Stewart’s Shops; Patrick Suprenant, vice president of fuels/trustee, Stewart’s Shops; Rob Brown, Esq., founding partner, ESOP Plus®; Terry Griswold, ASA, senior managing director, Empire Valuation Consultants; Dr. Hugh Lambert, assistant professor of accounting; and Dr. Chantz Miles ’22 (Ed.D.), entrepreneur-in-residence in the School of Business.

“When a founder realizes it is time to plan for a successful exit, it’s imperative to know the full spectrum of options. One such option for founders to consider is enabling the employees (and family members) to take ownership via an ESOP model. Who else would I consider to keep our unique culture alive, to continue the growth trajectory we were on? To me, our employees were the best choice,” said Till.

During the symposium, attendees will learn about the exit planning landscape and how owners need to prepare for an exit by addressing control, legacy, feelings, and paternalistic tendencies/price. Next, a panel of owners will share stories on how they transitioned their firms to ESOP ownership. A third session will include expert commentary on how to build a team to support the consideration and implementation of an ESOP strategy. The symposium will conclude with an expert networking luncheon where presenters will lead table discussions and answer questions from attendees.

“In addition to being a viable exit strategy for business owners, employee stock ownership plans are a way to incentivize employees to think like owners by making them owners. Doing so creates a culture of empowerment, innovation, and excellence,” said Lambert.

“Exiting with Grace” is sponsored by ESOP Plus® and Empire Valuation Consultants. Interested attendees may now through Tuesday, Oct. 24 (also the last day for refund requests). For more information, email cwittmeyer@sjf.edu