Nina Hale Turns Over Ownership To Employees

The Minneapolis-based web development and digital marketing firm said it is now fully operating under an employee stock ownership plan.

Nina Hale, Inc., now allows employees to act as company shareholders through a new employee stock plan, the Web development and marketing firm said this week.
The firm’s employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) went into effect on January 1 and is a 15-year plan, during which time 1/15th of the firm’s total stock will be released to eligible employees each year, to be placed in an additional retirement account. Since the company’s stock is released on an annual basis, employees who remain with the firm longer will receive more of the total stock.
Founder and CEO Nina Hale told Twin Cities Business that existing employees who are with the firm at the end of the year and have worked 720 hours in 2014 are eligible for the plan. (New employees hired in 2014, however, must log 1,000 hours by year's end to be granted shares.) Employees must complete a three-year “cliff vesting” period to gain access to all of their shares, although longer term employees hired in 2010 or earlier have a shorter two-year vesting period.
If employees choose to retire or leave following the vesting period, Hale said that their stock will convert to cash in their retirement accounts. 
Hale said that an important distinction of her firm’s plan is that it is implemented automatically for employees—they do not pay for the program. In fact, the ESOP is in addition to the company’s existing benefits programs. Hale also said that her firm’s ESOP relatively short vesting period is a function of the “fast-moving” nature of the advertising industry.
Hale said that she will remain as CEO of the company but that she no longer owns any of it—the company is now fully owned by the Nina Hale, Inc., Trust. During the plan’s 15 years, the employees will become the beneficiaries of the trust’s stock. Hale and President Donna Robinson are the trustees of the Nina Hale, Inc., Trust.

Hale said that her firm’s ESOP benefits both employees and clients.
“[The ESOP] gives [employees] a dramatic share of ownership in the company and it recognizes their efforts,” she said.
Meanwhile, Hale said that clients can expect “increased focus” among the firm’s employees, as well as “company longevity” due to a stronger employee retention rate.
“Through hard work and dedication to our clients, we’ve grown the company together,” Hale said in an emailed statement. “Now the time has come to share that success with my employees.”
Founded in 2005, Nina Hale provides digital marketing, e-commerce strategy, SEO, paid placement, social media, analytics, content strategy, and copywriting services. The company currently employs 35 and is among Minnesota’s 25-largest web development and design firms based on Web revenue.