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Employee Ownership Culture and Mindset: Redemption After a Downturn

May 31, 2019 by Lauren Haley 0 Comments

Work culture and mindset during financial downturnEssential Ingredients was founded in May 1996 in Augusta, GA. This cosmetic chemical and supply distributor has been 100% employee-owned since 2011, after a long history of keeping the financial information and challenges locked away for only management to see. There was one problem: the employees had never had any input or understanding of the company financials, and the financial downturn that followed the ESOP launch proved it. Although an ESOP is a great way to give associates a stake in the outcome® of the company, is a sense of ownership enough? Essential Ingredients quickly learned that an employee culture and ownership mindset among the employees may be even more impactful. 

The Great Game™ has been the turning point that helped all EI associates think and act like the owners they are and see tremendous results impacting revenue growth, the company's ownership culture, savings equating to more than $750K in sales, and earned EI a spot on the 2018 All-Star Team

Their Challenge 

Co-founder CEO Kris Maynard and his partners were excited about the future of their business when they decided to sell their company to their associates through an ESOP in 2011, but then the company went into a financial nosedive—what Maynard calls their “ESOP Death Valley.” Maynard admits that he had played a part in running the company in a way where employees had been "protected" from the financial challenges the business faced. “We kept our P&L in a locked vault,” he says. Adding to the stress was the fact that the company had taken on bank debt for the first time ever to finance the buyout.


When Maynard first learned about The Great Game of Business® in 2014, he immediately recognized that it could help associates inside the business to think and act like the owners they had become. By embracing financial literacy and transparency, and creating shared goals, Maynard hoped they could achieve better engagement among employee-owners in performing against their annual budget. They began playing The Game company-wide in 2016.


In the two years since, Essential Ingredients has hit it's budget related to one of the company’s Critical Numbers™: EBITDA. In 2018, they saw revenue growth of 29% and an EBITDA increase by 23%.

Maynard says the company has developed a culture of ownership where the team—not him—creates and owns responsibility for the annual plan. Employees throughout the company are now also asking hard questions about how the company is performing—as well as identifying areas where it might be able to grow in the future. “People aren’t surprised by anything now,” says Maynard. “But the greatest outcome has been the alignment we have created by having everyone rallying around our Critical Numbers.”

"It is not uncommon to walk through the office and hear “EBITDA” easily and comfortably used in a conversation. I think this, in its own right, shows how everyone at Essential Ingredients has been exposed and accepted the GGOB system and is aware of our goals and the status of the company." ~ Mike Davies, VP of Research & Development

MiniGame™ Spotlight

Essential Ingredients first began teaching financial literacy to its employee-owners by using the income statement to show how the company calculated EBITDA. As employee-owners gained a greater understanding of what drove the company’s bottom line, they identified a problematic area related to write-offs from scrap materials. In 2014, scrap write-offs totaled $103,000. That number jumped to $132,000 in 2015—a 28% increase. The team recognized, however, that they could add a dollar of EBITDA for every write-off dollar they could eliminate. A MiniGame was born where the company’s service representatives made a push to sell stock that was “soon to expire” or had a limited shelf life.

By playing that MiniGame for four months in 2016, scrap was cut 33%—boosting EBITDA by $46,000—which was the equivalent of adding $753,000 in sales to the top line. Even better, the MiniGame helped change behaviors that have stuck, as write-offs were cut 56% in 2017, adding another $53,000 to EBITDA.

"The GGOB process has made me more accountable in terms of budgeting and forecasting. It’s also created a forum for empowering employees and increasing employee engagement across departments." ~Mary Mroczkowski, Director of Supply Chain

What's Next

As much as the team had success with the MiniGame built around scrap write-offs, Maynard admits that he and his team need to get better at creating a rhythm where similar MiniGames are being created all the time to solve problems tied to the Critical Number. One of the barriers, Maynard says, is that his people get hung up the term MiniGame—and he’s not totally sure why. “It’s like trying to get your kids to eat their spinach,” he says. “They know it’s good for them, but they just resist doing it on their own.”

Maynard is also excited about the progress the team has made in their High- Involvement Planning™ process, where more people inside the organization are thinking about where the company will go in the future.


Thanks to the Great Game of Business, our budgets are more reliable and explainable because of broad involvement. Employees up and down the line understand how both revenue generation and expense management impact the value of the business. They have become “stewards” of the company’s resources as employee-owners. ~Justin L. Jordan, President, COO.

 Click to view a printable version of this case study.

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Topics: Employee Ownership, MiniGames™, All-Star Team

Written by Lauren Haley
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About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.