Discover more from EO+WD | Employee Ownership + Workplace Democracy
"I wish I had learned about this two years ago"
The soon-to-be-former CEO of CodeWeavers talks about its new employee ownership trust
In brief: In conversation with consulting and investment firm Common Trust, CodeWeavers CEO Jeremy White covers why he chose to convert his software company to an employee ownership trust and how it’s going.
Background: Employee ownership trusts are trusts set up to ensure that a company operates to the benefit of its employees. It is an emerging third option for broad-based employee ownership, along with employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and worker cooperatives.
White considered worker cooperatives and ESOPs as potential structures. But he didn’t want to overhaul the management structure of the company, so a co-op didn’t work. ESOPs were expensive, but the primary obstacle was that his international employees would be excluded. CodeWeavers had also issued employee stock options, but they were “static” and “hadn’t expressed the value the [newer] staff was bringing.”
It’s interesting to hear White use software design-style language to describe the transition. The “trust design” was an “iterative” process of “crafting” the new ownership structure in collaboration with the new management team. At one point they asked team members who would want to be a trustee, in large part as a way to test employee comfort with the transition.
It’s still unclear to White whether the “ownership culture” that advocates claim as advantage of employee ownership is showing up in CodeWeavers, except in joking conversations around new expenditures (though this strikes me as exactly what ownership culture might do). He does see staff stepping up—including in the conversational shifts in which he puts the onus for solving problems back onto employees—but he’s not sure if that’s because of the new structure or preparation for his impending retirement.
White doesn’t use the phrase growth mindset, but that is what sprang to my mind as he spoke about his decision to put his trust in his new executive team, most of which had been with the company for over twenty years. He considered hiring a proven executive to lead the company, but ultimately decided to trust that they could carry the weight of leadership.