Vespoli Puts Workers At The Helm

In two months, Amanda Ward will have worked to sell Vespoli USA racing rowboats for a full year — meaning she will be an owner of the Fair Haven company.

Some of Ward’s coworkers already own the company.

That’s because company founder Michael Vespoli is planning to retire soon and last May established an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), giving the company over to all full-time employees who have been there for at least a year.

With no heir to the company after almost 36 years, Vespoli, who is 69, decided he didn’t want his employees to be swallowed up by a larger suburban or foreign company and be fired at will. He trusted them to navigate its direction and continue building and selling high-quality carbon fiber racing shells to coaches around the world.

At the first “Owners’ Day” held behind the 385 Clinton Ave. property, Vespoli reiterated the new ethos of the company. He told each person present exactly how much money they could walk away with, given the current value of the company and the years they had devoted to it.

Vespoli USA sells and repairs one-, two-, four- and eight-person boats for high school and college coaches participating in regattas. Coaches generally buy up to three boats at a time. Three eight-person boats cost anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000, Ward said, depending on the thickness of the boat, layers of carbon fiber and any high-performance add-ons.

The ESOP gives employees stock ownership at no upfront cost.  This is no socialist attempt to spread the wealth. “This is not Bernie Sanders talking. I am a capitalist,” Vespoli reassured the group who turned out to last Friday’s barbecue. The ESOP “will provide you with a financial future you never would have had in any other job.”

The process is complicated. Vespoli sold the company to a trust. Full-time employees who have been with with the company for at least a year gain ownership “not through capital investments, but through commitment of work,” he said. The Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service did an independent valuation of the company, which Vespoli negotiated and finally agreed to the sale price.

He personally loaned all of the money to buy the company’s shares for the trust, and will get paid out only if the company does well.

Each year a percentage of shares in the trust are allocated to individual employee accounts, based on the annual number of hours employees spend working. The more years employees stay with the company, the more right they have to the shares in their account. An employee who stays for three years is 40 percent vested, meaning they can leave the company and receive 40 percent of their share value.

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