Financial manager Paul Sugden joined AbleNet, a 36-employee company that makes enabling equipment for people with disabilities, when it was just switching its corporate status from non-profit to for-profit. He had arrived from a top-down, closed-book operation only to assume the task of convincing some mission-driven employees that profit isn't a dirty word. AbleNet was implementing open-book management (OBM) in preparation for an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).

So Sugden started from scratch, brainstorming interesting ways to explain the numbers and make the learning stick. He came up with some crazy, memorable concepts such as the Five P's of Financial Literacy. In one series of exercises, he showed people the difference in AbleNet's revenue when it receives 700 calls a month versus 600. He also graphed the number of minutes each person in telesales spent on the phone in a given time frame and pointed out that if only one person were doing all that talking, he'd be on the phone for 80 hours straight!

Sugden's new campaign is personal financial responsibility. "We have an outside financial planner who is helping us develop our own personalized financial statements of income and net worth. We also plan to teach people how to take control of their financial future and retirement," says Sugden. Recently, the planner dropped in to learn more about OBM, the ESOP, and the structure of AbleNet's financial statements. Then she gave everyone six pages of money-related questions to answer at home with family members. "We'll learn about our own personal assets and liabilities -- homes, college debt -- and our hope is to relate their examples to the company's balance sheet: 'You have a house, and we have accounts receivable. See?' We're spending $200 per person or about $7,000 total on this, but everyone's for it, so we'll make it worth it."

Copyright 1999 Open-Book Management Inc.