Fostering Support from Spouses
For the employee-owners of Phelps County Bank, in Rolla, Mo., as for any company owner, work doesn't end when the doors close for the day. Phelps's staff -- tellers, loan officers, and others -- who own a majority stake in the business, frequently attend after-hours meetings to determine policy and classes to polish their skills. It's more than a job.
But some employees' spouses didn't see it that way; they considered their partners' jobs a second income that shouldn't interfere with picking up the kids and fixing dinner. (Eighty percent of Phelps's employees are women.) "I could see the pressure building," CEO Emma Lou Brent says. So she began inviting the spouses to annual shareholders' meetings, where she explains in detail what ownership means.
Brent presents each family with a package that includes several charts: one favorably comparing the growth of Phelps stock with that of other local banks; another showing the growth of a typical nonmanagerial worker's stock over the past 5 years; and a third projecting individual employees' stock appreciation 10 years into the future. Brent accompanies that last chart with several disclaimers -- for instance, about the effect industry trends might have on that appreciation. But she also explains that those projections depend upon each employee's efforts and the support employees receive at home.
The numbers are impressive: 7 of the total of 54 employees already have six-figure sums in the employee stock ownership plan. The result of the spousal involvement is "40 unpaid employees who ask good questions and help promote the bank," Brent says. "And it shows them their spouses have a career." -- Michael P. Cronin