This report describes the results of the first phase of a research project on the reasons companies terminate employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). It summarizes interviews with company leaders at former ESOP companies and suggests directions for the quantitative research planned for phase 2 of this project.
This article represents the first stage in a two-stage research project to explore the causes of ESOP termination. This phase of the study is limited to a small number of interviews and is not meant to provide a statistically reliable snapshot of why ESOP companies terminate their plans. It would be inappropriate to extrapolate too much from these data.
As qualitative data, this phase of the research suggests which potential causes of ESOP termination are worthy of further study and which do not seem to be. The interviews also provide stories for a number of companies that formerly had ESOPs and the insights of the leaders at these companies. The interviews, in other words, allow us to probe in depth, providing us with a better idea of what questions to ask in the second phase of the research. The second phase will include data gathered from consultants on the companies they work with or have worked with. Phase two should provide a better overall picture.
Given the limitations of this study, however, two overall trends do seem fairly clear. First, the most common reason for termination is being acquired, usually because there is an offer too good to turn down. The second most common reason is an inability to handle the repurchase obligation. Some observes have feared that ESOP repurchase obligation will ultimately be the undoing of a significant percentage of ESOPs. The relatively low rate of ESOP terminations (it is about in line with that of other benefit plans) and the secondary importance of the factor in this small sample suggests this is overstated.