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Lessons from Ten Years of Employee Ownership

Employees talk around a table at the D.C. Ayers Saint Gross office.

At Ayers Saint Gross, part of our ethos is that no issue should be considered in isolation. The details of a project – both big and small – are interconnected. And we believe every voice matters. This philosophy extends to the way we run our business.

In 2013, Ayers Saint Gross formed an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) as a way of sustaining the culture and values of the firm while sharing the responsibility and benefits of firm success. This means that for over ten years, Ayers Saint Gross has been a 100% employee-owned design firm. Here, every employee is also an owner. We are all personally invested in the firm’s long-term success because we know our work is interconnected. And we all have a part to play in making the firm a success.

Throughout the past decade, we’ve learned about the value of employee ownership for fostering a healthy team. Here are four ways our ESOP has changed the way we think about our business:

Ayers Saint Gross employees collaborate while writing on a window in the Baltimore office.
  1. Planning makes perfect.

As part of our ESOP, we are required to create a business plan every year to set annual goals. This process is unifying, encouraging all our teams to slow down and think about industry trends, opportunities to strengthen our work and client service, and our common goals. Once the plan is finalized and approved by the Board of Directors, each team within the firm starts the new year with a clear set of goals and expectations that can be evaluated and adjusted as needed. The goals we achieve are reflected in the share price for that year.

We’ve learned that when our employees are focused on the same goals, we are more likely to perform at a higher level overall. Not only does this process hold us accountable for our work, but it is also an annual reminder to our team: “This is who we are and what we want to accomplish. Here’s how we can work together to get there.”

  1. It encourages next-generation leaders.

As an employee-owned company, we know that our most valued assets are our people. Our ESOP encourages longevity, allowing employees to learn, gain field experience, and become true experts of what they do. Our ESOP status also pushes us to develop long-term leadership transition plans – remembering that the highly experienced employees of today will one day retire. This means we must always consider how to support and encourage the motivated and talented leaders of tomorrow who can step in and take the reins.

  1. We preserve our own legacy.

Ayers Saint Gross has a long history, dating back more than 100 years with offices in Baltimore, D.C., and Arizona. Over the years, the firm has shifted and grown, eventually developing a name for itself as one of the top university architecture firms in the country. As a company, we are proud of our roots and our history. Our ESOP will allow for a smooth transition of ownership for years to come, enabling us to maintain our distinct identity and carry that into the future.

  1. We’re all invested in the work that we do.

At its heart, being an employee-owned business allows all of us to share in the rewards of our hard work. We each have a clear incentive to help our company succeed and grow and we can make this happen by working together, finding efficiencies, and identifying innovative new ways to serve our clients. By working smarter and more collaboratively, we all play a part in Ayers Saint Gross’s work of shaping the future of design.

We know we’re stronger together when one of us wins, we all win.

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