“I’m here to tell you that we sold the company.”

Those were the words that Kris Maynard, CEO and Co-Founder of Essential Ingredients, said to a room packed with loyal employees who were gathered under the pretense of a 15-year anniversary party. Instead, their trusted leadership team had just broken the news that everything was about to change — or so it seemed.

“There was a gasp in the room when I said it,” says Maynard. “Then I told them that the new owners were in fact in the room with us today, and I’d like to introduce them. I asked the new owners of Essential Ingredients to please stand up.”

Everyone began to look around, waiting for the new owners to make themselves known. But instead, Kris looked to the front row of the audience and asked a long-time warehouseman to please stand up. He asked him how long he’d been with the company, and then he asked him to remain standing. Next, Kris looked across the room to  one of their beloved receptionists, and asked her to stand and share how long she’d been with the company. One by one, Kris continued this line of questioning until a large group of employees were standing up throughout the room. Finally, he revealed what was really going on.

“I’d like to introduce you to the new owners of Essential Ingredients, and that’s all of you.”

After several years of research and consulting, Kris and his two partners were ready to convert Essential Ingredients to an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) and sell the company to its employees. After announcing it to the team, the 15th anniversary party quickly turned into a crash course on employee ownership and a day of education around what this decision meant for all of them.

Read the rest of Paul Spiegelman’s article at Forbes