Zehnder Communications, Inc.

Shared Success: Celebrating the 1-Year Anniversary of our Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)

In 1996, Zehnder Communications was founded with the vision that creativity and strategy shouldn’t be siloed – they should enhance each other.

What started as one owner, one client, and a team of three in New Orleans has blossomed into a full-service advertising agency with offices in Nashville, Baton Rouge, and Rosemary Beach. With over 70 employees and clients across the country, we’ve built something to be proud of.

So when the time came for our CEO to consider the future of Z’s legacy, employee ownership was the natural next step. On May 1st, 2023, Zehnder officially transitioned to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), putting the company shares (and its future) in the hands of its employees.

A year after the conversion, we're taking a moment to reflect on the transformative power of employee ownership. We sat down with four employee owners to talk about teamwork, responsibility, and Zehnder’s bright possibilities.

“To me, employee ownership exemplifies how all of our employees are empowered to make a difference in the growth of Zehnder,” explains William Gilbert, creative director and designer extraordinaire. “It’s like lighting a fire in everyone. To know ‘I can make a difference, and I can reap the benefits of the company’s success.’ It’s in their hands…[and] it’s more tangible than before.”

When employees are invested in the work as owners, they’re more engaged. And that transforms our idea of teamwork.

“[Since converting to an ESOP], I'm more inclined to bring new ideas to the table,” notes account supervisor Erin Joyce. “I'm also more inclined to rally behind my coworkers and fellow owners if they are struggling. The success of the company is my success and vice versa.”

By striving to do good work with people they like and trust, employees are empowered to shape the company’s success. And that attracts top talent.

“As an ESOP, we offer a singular opportunity to those just starting their careers as well as to experienced professionals who see this as an opportunity to have a direct stake in outcomes,” adds Stephanie Funti, director of HR & administration. “The opportunity to work at an Employee-Owned company allows applicants to think not only of the present but to entertain their future as an employee and an owner.”

This amplifies the wealth of benefits Zehnder already offers and is proving attractive for others looking to join our team.

For account supervisor and super-strategist Katie Campbell, that direct stake has made her feel even more invested in her day-to-day work. “It makes me feel a closer connection to my employer as an owner. I feel that sense of ownership and am even more invested in the relationships at work, because I think those connections drive strong performance,” she notes.

So, how has that extra layer of accountability and responsibility impacted our approach to our internal mission to “do great work, make a difference, earn a fair profit, and have fun”?

“Mission implies you,” William explains. “You do great work. You earn a fair profit. You make a difference. You have fun. And with the ESOP conversion allowing us to be the deciders of our future, we are able to make all those decisions. We decide what’s a fair profit, how to have fun, and how to make a difference, as opposed to a third party owner.”

With this profit-making power comes great responsibility.

“[The conversion] also has me extra mindful of our reputation, ensuring we maintain a strong standing with clients and potential clients,” Katie notes. “Especially now that we’re the owners of that reputation.”

But ultimately, the true value of our ESOP is seeing the fruits of our labor and reaping the rewards that come when we invest our time and talent.

“It’s empowering to have this responsibility and opportunity in my professional life at a young age, to really be able to make a difference and dictate what my profit and retirement could look like,” Katie adds.

For us, being the “Birthplace of Beyond” means delivering next-level results internally as well as for clients. And after our most successful fiscal year ever landed us the top advertiser spot in New Orleans CityBusiness’ recent round-up of top private companies, it’s clear that our ESOP is helping us meet those goals.

We celebrate this milestone looking forward with optimism, knowing that as employee-owners of Zehnder, we are poised to write the next chapter of our story together. Here's to many more years of growth, fulfillment, and shared success as an employee-owned advertising agency.


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