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Burns & McDonnell Honored by The ESOP Association for Employee Communications Excellence

At its Annual Conference last night, The ESOP Association bestowed its highest communications award to Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City, MO.

The award (the Annual Award for Communications Excellence) recognizes businesses that do an outstanding job of communicating with employees and the broader community about their employee owned business. The AACE is presented in two categories, based on company size. Burns & McDonnell won the award among companies with more than 250 employees.

“For some large companies with employees in a multitude of far-flung offices, communications can be a tremendous challenge,” said J. Michael Keeling, President of The ESOP Association. “Burns & McDonnell communicated so effectively with its thousands of employee owners that any business could learn a great deal from its efforts.”

Burns & McDonnell is 100 percent owned by its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

“An ESOP is a unique retirement plan, and companies that implement them effectively often do so as a result of their outstanding communications efforts with employee owners and the public,” said Keeling.

ESOPs have many unique wrinkles with which new employees and the community may be unfamiliar. Helping them understand this benefit requires particularly clear and effective communication.

Unique aspects of ESOPs include the following:

  • ESOPs hold stock in a trust (the ESOP trust) for employees for the duration of their tenure with the business.
  • Typically, stock is granted to employees, who incur no out of pocket expense to purchase stock or participate in the plan.
  • ESOP companies are required to provide employee owners with an annual update on the share price of their stock. As part of these efforts, many ESOP businesses offer financial training, open book management, regular town hall meetings with executives, and other forms of communication that go beyond what conventionally owned companies typically provide.
  • How a business defines employee ownership will vary based on the company’s culture. So communication about corporate culture becomes important for ESOP companies.
  • The way a company defines employee ownership may benefit its customers. Communicating those benefits to customers may provide the business with a competitive advantage.

Burns & McDonnell excelled at a multitude of communications efforts. The judges’ comments stated:

A strong overall communications package was highlighted by an excellent total benefits compensation document and company newsletter. The newsletter is distributed electronically, and also printed and posted prominently where employee owners can see it. To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the ESOP, the company spent two years planning an all-day gala for 3,000 employees and their guests. The event featured live music, dancing, casino and arcade games, and taxis to take people home.

Judging for the award was conducted over a two-day period by a five-person panel comprised of representatives from various ESOP companies and a business that assists ESOP companies. Panel participants included employee owners ranging from mid-level managers to top executives.

The ESOP Association has run the AACE program continually since 1992.


The ESOP Association is America’s largest employer-sponsored advocacy and education association focused on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs). Founded in 1978, the Association seeks to enhance federal laws governing ESOPs, provide members with expert information, and fund research via the Employee Ownership Foundation (an affiliate). The ESOP Association’s members include ESOP companies, companies considering an ESOP, and service providers that assist in setting up and maintaining ESOPs.