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September 7, 2017

Westbrook agency joins ranks of Maine employee-owned companies

Courtesy / Ethos From left, Glenn Rudberg, Ted Darling, Tom Gale, Judy Trepal on the rooftop deck of the Westbrook-based multi-platform branding agency Ethos, which announced today that it is now 100% owned by its employees. Rudberg, Darling and Trepal founded the agency in 1999 and Gale came on later to lead Ethos' wholly owned digital marketing agency VONT and ultimately became a partner.

Ethos, a multi-platform branding and digital agency with 55 employees, announced today that it has established an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, joining a growing number of companies in Maine and nationally choosing the ESOP model for future growth.

The ESOP transfers ownership of the just-under $10 million Westbrook company from a closely held LLC partnership to an S-Corporation owned 100% by its employees. The employee owners also include the employees of VONT LLC, a leading digital marketing agency wholly owned by Ethos. Developed as part of an ongoing strategic planning process, the ESOP was officially introduced to company employees on Aug. 31.

Agency founders Glenn Rudberg, Ted Darling and Judy Trepal, along with VONT President Tom Gale, will continue day-to-day management of the company, focusing on the agency’s clients and developing the Ethos and VONT teams. Gale has been appointed CEO of the combined entity.

The four partners will now serve on the board of directors and as officers of the company. William Plumley, a long-time employee, was also appointed to the board of directors.

ESOP tied to growth strategy

In a telephone interview with Mainebiz, Gale noted the owners of Ethos and VONT did a lot of research about ESOPs before deciding that it was the best way to ensure the company’s long-term sustainability and enable it to retain and attract top talent.

“The statistics are impressive in terms of how a company performs” after establishing an ESOP ownership plan, he said. “It focuses everyone in the company on what drives future growth. The company becomes even more focused on doing better for its clients.”

Gale said clients for Ethos and VONT include Oakhurst Dairy, Gifford’s Ice Cream, Finance Authority of Maine, the Wild Blueberry Association of Maine and Boston University.

“An employee-owned company was the logical way to reward a team that already thinks and acts like owners,” he added. “Our agency was founded upon the principles of doing right by our clients and by our employees. Moving the company to an employee-owned model allows us to leverage the client-focused culture we have built over the years. The ESOP also ensures the company’s long-term sustainability, retains and attracts top talent, and provides dedicated employees with the rewards of ownership.”

Plumley, who joined the company in 2003, said the company has been on a strong trajectory of growth, noting that it had fewer than 15 employees when he was hired, with its expansion prompting several moves that culminated with its February 2016 move to a state-of-the-art building on the banks of the Presumpscot River in Westbrook.

“We’re doing this from a position of strength,” he said. “We have strong client retention; we have strong employee retention.”

“Today’s employees want to be a part of something. They want a stake in the game,” said founding partner, Glenn Rudberg. “We see a 100% employee-owned company as the best way to reward loyal employees and to motivate the next generation of leaders.”

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