Over the past several months, I’d heard from a few reputable sources that the folks at Zingerman’s were exploring the possibility of transitioning to a business model in which their 600-some employees would share ownership to some degree. And, a few weeks ago, when I’d heard that an unknown person had edited the company’s Wikipedia page to reflect this fact, I knew it was just a matter of time before someone in the press got hold of it. Well, this afternoon, that finally happened. The Business Insider released a story about the Ann Arbor company’s planned transition to a worker-owned co-op, and now other stories are starting to pop up around the web… So, I guess there’s no turning back now.
Here’s a clip:
…(The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses) are founded on a unique philosophy. They lack a traditional business hierarchy and emphasize collective decision-making. The unorthodox strategy has worked well for them, and the company is on track to make $50 million this fiscal year.
In the next few years, Zingerman’s plans to adopt an even more radical business model, becoming a worker cooperative, where its 600-plus employees will own the company and influence its direction.
A worker co-op is an old business model that has seen renewed interest post-recession due to a lack of investors creating jobs in communities. But Zingerman’s has been focused on getting its employees to think like owners long before hard economic times.
One of the tenets of modern cooperatives, open-book management, has been in effect at Zingerman’s for 20 years. It is a management philosophy founded on the idea that even the lowest-level employee will work better if they know how the company is doing financially and should have a stake in its success…
While the details are still sketchy as to what this would mean for Zingerman’s founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, and the 18 or so managing partners currently operating businesses under the Zingerman’s umbrella, I can’t help but think that this is a positive move for workers – one which will perhaps reverberate through the region… Worker-owned cooperatives, as I suspect you know, are on the rise once again in America, and it’s exciting to know that the folks at Zingerman’s are going to be among those leading the charge.
Hopefully, some day soon, I’ll have details to share about how this evolution will likely happen, and what it’ll mean for the people at Zingerman’s. In the meantime, here’s a brief clip from the Ann Arbor News, who apparently got a hold of Weinzweig shortly after the news broke.
…Weinzweig said he wants to give Zingerman’s employees the opportunity to better influence the direction of the company. The goal is to implement the worker cooperative plan in 2015. By 2020, Weinzweig said he hopes all of Zingerman’s businesses are managed by partners and owned and partially controlled by employees…
[note: If you haven't already, you should also check out my recent interview with Paul Saginaw on why we have to raise the minimum wage.]