StoneAge, based in Durango, CO, is a manufacturer of high pressure water blasted tools that serves worldwide markets. Founded in 1979 by two Colorado natives, John Wolgamott and Jerry Zink, StoneAge was built on a foundation of flexibility and adaptability that has kept their company resilient for decades.
StoneAge began with a design for a water jet drill for mining applications, but after the Three Mile Island incident, the founders quickly learned what it meant to pivot business direction. They soon found a new niche in industrial cleaning with high pressure waterjetting tools. The technology of their product can sound complicated, but CEO, Kerry Siggins, refers to them as “water guns on steroids.”
In 1998, StoneAge took their most transformational pivot yet by selling stock to the employees. Their homegrown stock ownership plan was an experiment and a reflection of the altruism of the founders. Employee ownership was a nod of appreciation to their loyal employees.
The models of employee ownership are ample, so StoneAge started small with the stock ownership plan as a first step. The initial structure allowed employees an opportunity once each year to buy in or sell shares.
In 2014, it became clear to leadership that they needed a more structured succession plan and were enthusiastic to take the next step in creating a more sustainable employee ownership model. The team decided broad ownership was the mechanism to further strengthen their company and used an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), implemented at the start of 2015.
An ESOP is an entitlement benefit which can feel intangible for employees. To maintain the company culture of ownership and employee engagement, StoneAge developed a mission with the “own it” mindset. This means that employees hold themselves and each other accountable for being great teammates, producing high quality work, continuously improving, solving problems, and acting like owners. This mentality is intrinsic in employee ownership, but by giving a name to it, StoneAge ensured that company culture would be stronger than ever.
“Employee ownership has been a part of StoneAge for so long that it has become ingrained in our culture. It’s the reason that we are leaders in the industry--our employees care,” said Siggins. “Employee ownership has allowed us to not only weather any storm, but thrive in it. An encryption attack in 2020 posed a challenge, but because our employee owners believe in the company and think like owners, they were willing to go the extra mile to make sure our customers didn't feel a thing.”
Siggins’ advice for employee ownership success is not to participate passively, but to celebrate stock prices, share financials transparently, and bring employee ownership up in every meeting to encourage employee owners to be active and engaged participants in their own success.