In the otherwise-sleepy town of Arthur, Illinois, this week brought a life-changing surprise for hundreds of workers at locally based garage-door maker, C.H.I. Overhead Doors.
C.H.I.'s private equity owner, KKR, is selling the company to steel manufacturer Nucor in a $3 billion deal. The sale marks one of KKR's largest returns in recent history, generating a massive windfall for both the firm and — uniquely — C.H.I.'s employees, from truck drivers to factory workers.
On average, hourly workers at C.H.I. will receive $175,000 in a payout, with the most-tenured earning more than $750,000 as a result of the sale.
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Rhonda Jamison, an office manager at C.H.I., has been with the company for 17 years and will be taking home 5.5 times her annual salary.
"Words cannot explain how my mind was going in a hundred directions," she said. "There is no way that I would have ever expected this much money."
The idea of giving rank-and-file workers equity grants in a sale is the brainchild of Pete Stavros, KKR's co-head of U.S. Private Equity. Stavros said he became interested in employee ownership at a young age due to his father's work experience.
"My dad was a construction worker for 45 years," Stavros said. "He actually loved his job, except for, really, two things: one, he couldn't create wealth, on an hourly wage. And then second, the hourly wage itself really led to a misalignment of incentives with his employer, because the employer wants fewer hours and no overtime, and the workers want just the opposite."
Employee ownership model
Once he hit a leadership position at KKR, Stavros began experimenting with employee ownership models in the investments he oversaw.
"We had good success. So, it delivered great results for companies, great outcomes for workers, he said. "This isn't charity, it's not a gift. They drove an unbelievable amount of productivity in the business."
Now, the firm uses an employee ownership model in all of its U.S. buyouts and it's hoping to convince its peers to do the same.
Other large private equity firms, including Apollo Global, Ares Management, Silver Lake, and TPG, have partnered with Stavros' nonprofit called Ownership Works. Each firm has committed to implementing shared ownership models within at least three of their portfolio companies by the end of 2023.
Even Nucor will include their own profit-sharing model for C.H.I., and despite all the changes, C.H.I. employees say they have no plans to leave the company.
"We've got more accountability for ourselves and to our teammates," said Kenroy Morrison who is a general manager for C.H.I. in New Jersey. "It's one of those things where I don't see myself going anywhere. I'm here for the long haul."
Morrison said he plans to put his bonus toward a college fund for his two-year-old son.
As for Jamison, who spends her days answering phones and ordering supplies, she also has big plans for her newfound money.
"Well, we're going to Disney," she said. "I'm gonna' pay off my house, I'm gonna' pay off my cars, and we're gonna' give a little bit to the church and help my kids a little bit."