Jason Patnaude calls it the worst day of his life. Patnaude, 54, attended vocational school in Essex after graduating high school, leaving early to install Megabucks machines. Two and a half years later, he was let go when the machines became obsolete. “My daughter was three months old, we built a house, and bought a car that weekend, and I got fired,” Patnaude remembered.

Desperate, Patnaude went to work at Radio Shack and Burger King. He called his older brother in Connecticut, who was an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician. “He said, ‘You can’t do that, rent your house, pack it up and come down here,'” Patnaude said.

In Connecticut, Patnaude learned HVAC, returning to Vermont in the late 1990s to start a mechanical company with his younger brother, Shaun. The brothers ended up selling the business and going to work for two of the largest HVAC companies in the state. Neither brother was happy, and on April 1, 2010, they decided to start another HVAC business — Alliance Group in Essex.   In February, Jason Patnaude had one of the best days in his life. he and his brother announced to their 125 employees in Essex, Rutland and Lebanon, as well as Concord, New Hampshire, that they were the new owners of Alliance Group, which reached $24 million in revenue last year.

“It was one of the best blindsides I’ve ever had,” said Kyle Campbell, a field technician at Alliance. “Definitely a nice surprise.” Campbell, 26, suddenly found himself an owner of Alliance Group under an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP. He has a long career ahead of him at Alliance, and many years to build up his equity in the company through his retirement account.

A fair price, and a fair shake for employees

For Jason and Shaun, an ESOP was the perfect exit strategy. The brothers did not want to leave the fate of the employees who helped them build Alliance into a powerhouse in the hands of a buyer that might gut the place. They had originally thought of selling it to a few key employees.

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