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Companies We Keep: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place, 2nd Edition Paperback – November 8, 2008
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"John Abrams tells a wonderful story, full of ideas about our society. We all need the South Mountain Company--and its human lessons."--Anthony Lewis, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner
About the Author
John Abrams is co-founder and president of South Mountain Company, a design/build and renewable energy company on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. In 1987, South Mountain Company was restructured to become employee-owned, and so began the adventure that led Abrams to write his first book, The Company We Keep: Reinventing Small Business for People, Community, and Place. With added experience and research, Abrams has revised the book, renamed Companies We Keep: Employee Ownership and the Business of Community and Place, so that it can better serve as a primer for employee-ownership. In 2005 Business Ethics magazine awarded South Mountain its National Award for Workplace Democracy.
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South Mountain was founded by John Abrams in 1975. As years went by, the founder thought about the fate of his company in the long run. A phenomenon that we see over and over again with small and medium sized companies is that after one or maybe two generations, those companies fail and disappear. To enable his company to sustain itself beyond his tenure, Abrams thought of selling his company to his own employees. Giving responsibility to his own workforce, the company became "as much a community as a company", in his words. "We build not only houses, but also connections and bonds between people, between people and land, and between commerce and place. We are organized around the idea of maintaining and perpetuating an ongoing business community, and sharing ownership democratically with the people we work with. We think we are crafting a company to keep."
Democratizing a company enables work to become "an expression of who we are and one of our most important anchors of meaning".
Social responsibility and ecological sustainability go hand in hand. This led in the last years to the implementation of renewable energy, and the objective is to become a carbon-neutral company in a few years time.
South Mountain is an example of how our current economy of employees can be transformed into an economy of owners. The best news is that this transformation can quite easily be achieved. John Abrams thinks the following : "My fellow baby boomers own several million businesses, and during the next two decades most of these founders will exit. The businesses will either shut down or be passed on. Selling to employees is an option that deserves to be more widely understood, for it offers powerful benefits to all parties." On top of that, it would be beneficial to democracy at large and improve the sustainability of our world.
Had I known about them back in 81 I might be working there as an employee owner today.
There are at least 5 stand-out qualities that separate this from other business books, including those on socially responsible business:
- It's actually written by the man who led the remarkable accomplishments of this impressive company. It's not ghost-written nor the product of an outside observer who is one or two steps removed from the real work & struggles.
- John Abrams is a really good writer. You won't just benefit from reading this. You'll enjoy it.
- Unlike many successful business leaders who want to write a book, John is notably humble. This is not a vanity project. It's about the company and what they did differently, why, and how it turned out. It also offers useful concrete examples of other companies that have modeled unusual and encouraging humane business practices.
- It's full of meaningful, helpful details of real decisions or practices that will help the business leader. It's not just a new theory stretched out over 150 pages and filled out with vague anecdotes and other fluff.
- The South Mt Company has made - and successfully executed - many unorthodox decisions, like consciously choosing NOT to grow, and to turn the ownership and control of the company over to the employees. And when you read why and how they did it, and how it turned out, you might reconsider what a business can be for and what is possible.