by: Gross, Bill
Source: Harvard Business Review
In order to solve high-tech's employee retention problems, Bill Gross, the chairman and founder of Idealab, proposes a radical solution: give all workers a significant equity stake. In 1994, when the software maker Knowledge Adventure decided to spin out a new venture--Worlds, Inc.--founder Bill Gross expected the worst. He had argued with the board that it was in KA's best interests to maintain a controlling ownership stake in Worlds, whose powerful new software technology had enormous revenue potential. But the board prevailed, and KA took only a 20% ownership in the new company, giving the rest to Worlds' employees. Within a year, the company's performance had surpassed all expectations, and instead of owning 80% of a $5 million business, KA owned 20% of a $77 million business. The arithmetic may have been counterintuitive, but the lesson was clear. When KA let go of Worlds and gave its employees near total ownership, the company unleashed a new level of employee performance. That, in turn, led to the creation of economic value that more than made up for the equity KA had surrendered. So compelling was this 'new math of ownership' that Gross founded a new company, Idealab, on this principle. The company, which develops ideas for Internet-based businesses and seeds the most promising ones, takes no more than a 49% equity stake in the new ventures and gives at least 1% of ownership to each employee. For Gross, this radical approach to ownership is the key to inspiring stellar performances. In part, employee-owners are motivated by their potential to earn great financial reward. But the drama of ownership, he argues, is even more important. In that drama, employees become personally involved in the struggle to outdo the competition and emerge victorious.
Link: The New Math of Ownership
Publication Date: 1998-11-01