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The Carris Companies: Making 100% Employee Governance the Practice—Shifting Stakeholder and Citizen Rights and Responsibilities to the Employees 

by: Betit, Cecile G.
Source: Greenleaf Publishing 

In the Long Term Plan (LTP) (Carris 1994), the Carris Companies' owner and visionary CEO, William (Bill) H. Carris described a highly unusual and wide-ranging change process designed to integrate employees into corporate governance and transfer ownership rights to employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). This form of worker ownership (30% minimum to qualify) and deferred benefit plan is recognised within the United States legal code. There are approximately 10,000 ESOPs within the United States. Technically, an ESOP is a deferred benefit plan in which a company purchases shares of its own stock and places them in trust for its employees who may claim their shares or sell them back to the company when they quit or retire (Lawrence 1997: 198).

The Carris design for the transfer of ownership and citizen stakeholder rights and responsibilities had several unique features:
• The discounted sales price for the transfer of 100% ownership of the privately held family firm
• The one-person one-vote provision within the ESOP
• The commitment to teach employees the business
• 100% employee governance

The practice of governance, within the Carris Companies transfer of ownership, provided a model of extensive and intensive engagement of a particular stakeholder group—the employees—during a time of structural change. This direction, pursued boldly within the Carris Companies, with their human scale, multiple products and national reach, has implications for those interested in employee ownership, systemic change to increase employee participation and/or new forms of corporate governance encouraging full exercise of corporate citizenship rights.

Following a brief description of the methodology employed within this chapter, background information is provided on the Carris Companies. Changing stakeholder relationships highlighted in the segment on employee ownership provide a foundation for understanding the transitional process within the Carris Companies and, specifically, the practice of governance.

Taking a practice-based stakeholder view of the corporation significantly alters the approach to the firm and its responsibilities, broadening the understanding of those to whom a firm is accountable. It moves the conversation directly toward the quality and nature of the relationships that companies develop with stakeholders and the assessment of the impacts of corporate activities on those stakeholders (Waddock 2002: 9).

The processes to increase participation and to prepare stakeholder citizens for changing roles and relationships are at the centre of the discussion of the Carris Companies' six year effort to move governance deep into its infrastructure—as a practice that involves all of the sites and stakeholder citizens within the corporation. Examples of the practice (not as completed efforts) are provided through examples of the work of the Corporate Steering Committee and the North Carolina Governance Committee.