Merrick’s Employee Ownership: What’s the Secret Sauce?

In honor of employee ownership month, we are celebrating stories of employee-owned companies in Colorado. Merrick & Company is an employee-owned engineering, architecture, surveying, and geospatial firm, headquartered in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

Merrick’s employee ownership journey started at the beginning of our company, with Founder Sears Merrick. In fact, the first stock transactions in Merrick’s history were recorded in the year we were incorporated, 1959. Sears had a theory that anyone who worked for themselves would work that much harder (and he was right!). From our inception, employee ownership has been our vision, and it has grown and thrived as our company has grown. Our first decades of employee ownership saw a handful of employee owners, but as our company expanded, we transitioned into a broader ownership structure with the formation of the ESOP in 1983. The ESOP put Merrick stock in the hands of many employee owners, rather than just a few. Today Merrick has two paths to becoming and employee owner: the ESOP, our broad stock ownership program, and the Direct Stock Program, in which participants are invited. Since that time, employee ownership has grown, broadened, and thrived at Merrick. Over the years, as society has changed and the economy has had ups and downs, our company has also changed and had ups and downs. But employee ownership has endured! We’ve consistently heard from both clients and new employees that there’s something different about Merrick. And we couldn’t agree more! So, what’s the “secret sauce” that keeps employee ownership strong and enduring here?


Employee ownership drives Merrick’s culture. The two are intertwined and difficult to separate. Our culture is built from the bottom up, not the top down. This is evident across the board at Merrick and can clearly be seen in the way we developed our purpose, vision, and values. Instead of a consultant working with our leadership team to come up with the purpose, vision, and values, Merrick involved all employees in a visioning week so that each individual voice could be heard. Then a committee made up of employees from different business units and departments came together to discuss the results and identify a purpose and vision that defined Merrick based on our employee owners’ voices. Around Merrick, you’ll hear often that employee ownership is a mentality, and we embrace that, both in our work and in our personal lives. Employee ownership isn’t just a stock certificate; it’s the way we approach our work, the way we do what’s best for our company in everyday situations, and the way we live our lives. We own our work. We own our careers. We own our company.


At the heart, Merrick’s culture is one of empowerment. It’s a large part of what makes Merrick special. Everyone is valued, as are their individual skills, strengths, and opinions. As employee owners, we’re empowered and encouraged to act in ways that can impact our company—bringing our individual skills to the table to make things happen. When you empower individuals, you give them the opportunity to go above and beyond and be rewarded for doing so. We hire people with the right values and skillset, then empower them to make a difference at Merrick. When we’re all making a difference (even in the smallest of ways), great things happen in the bigger picture of our company. Empowerment even runs into our corporate communications. We’re not “employees” to Merrick. Instead we’re “employee owners.” It’s a subtle change that makes a big difference!


Leadership and employee ownership go hand-in-hand (in several different ways). Merrick’s leadership lives and breathes employee ownership, and they are perfect examples of what our culture is all about. At Merrick, we (Merrick’s employee owners) pick our leadership through succession planning and in doing so, we perpetuate the ownership culture. Another way that leadership and employee ownership go hand-in-hand is through the qualities of individuals that we look for in the direct stock ownership program. What we want in a leader is also what we want in a direct stockholder! The two are tied together and help ensure that our leaders are invested in the long-term success of our company, just as our company is invested in the long term success of our leaders. Merrick invests in our employee owners to help develop not only the skills, but also a strong employee ownership mentality to help advance future leaders. We do this through several internal training programs: Merrick Business Program, Leadership Development, and PM101. Each of these programs plays a role in Merrick’s future leadership, from the C-Suite level down to our engineering managers and supervisors.


One of the most important ways that we make sure employee ownership thrives at Merrick is celebration! Our annual employee ownership month is one piece of that celebration. Most years we hold a party in each office to celebrate, complete with raffles and prizes for all. This annual celebration helps to keep our employee ownership mentality strong! We celebrate each new class of direct stock owners and their huge accomplishment! And, at our annual shareholders meeting all shareholders can celebrate their collective accomplishments of the previous year, hopefully with a higher stock price! We also do several other things with our corporate communications throughout the year to keep employee ownership front and center. In each bi-monthly newsletter, we feature a new employee owner and their thoughts on employee ownership (or what makes Merrick special in their eyes).


Education about employee ownership happens through our stock programs; Merrick Engineering Lunch (MEL) talks, which cover topics all across Merrick from technical to corporate responsibility to finance; and key internal training programs (from an employee ownership focus in our Merrick Business Program to empowerment in Leadership Development and to mentality and skills in PM101). But our most important education extends through our leaders, who are all well-versed in the power and benefits of employee ownership, to each employee owner who helps their colleagues to thrive and be empowered to make positive impacts on our company. We have something special here at Merrick, and we think each of our employee owners will agree.

Learn more about employee ownership

The Colorado Employee Ownership Office establishes a network of technical support and service providers for businesses considering employee ownership models. In April 2019, Governor Jared Polis established the Colorado Employee Ownership Commission. The commission consists of experts who are invested in helping Colorado become a leader for employee ownership.