TWIN FALLS,Farm equipment dealership, Agri-Service, headquartered in Twin Falls, Idaho is now employee owned, according to new release.
“I have been looking into having my business become employee owned for a few years, and the timing just seems right,” says Cleve Buttars, owner and founder of Agri-Service, in the release.
A group of employees representing each of Agri-Service’s locations receive the stock certificate from Cleve Buttars as the new owners of the company. (Left to right: Brandon Hennefer (St. Anthony), Jeff Burns (Terreton), Lori Davis (Twin Falls), Lyle Smith (Burley), Gary Rasmussen (Nyssa), Greg Snyder (Buhl-Hammett), Sue Slyter (Weiser) and founder Cleve Buttars.
With 8 locations in Idaho, Utah, and Oregon and approximately 150 employees, Agri-Service is one of the largest farm equipment dealerships in the nation, and the largest AGCO brand (Massey Ferguson, Hesston, Gleaner) retailer in North America.
Buttars made the surprise announcement in a letter to employees and suppliers, and the new owners all met at Canyon Ridge High School auditorium on February 20 to celebrate.
“Right now, employees are trying to understand how it works, but as they find out more, I think they will all be thrilled,” said Buttars. Agri-Service joins other Idaho companies that are 100% employee owned, such as WinCo, Clear Springs Foods, and Pacific Steel and Recycling.
As for how the change will affect day to day business, Buttars stated, “The hope is that every employee will take this ownership literally, and will treat the business like their own, which it is. We are getting hats and badges made that identify an employee as a ‘proud co-owner’ and we think it will be reflected in their work attitudes”
As an employee owned business, identified as an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) every employee receives the value of stock in the company to be redeemed upon retirement or termination.
“The longer they stay, the higher the value of their share of the company”, said Buttars, adding “If the company continues to grow as it has in our 20-year history, every employee who stays with us will have a very nice personal retirement fund to enjoy when they are done working.”
He added, “It’s different than a publicly traded stock whose value is determined by stock prices on the open market. The yearly value of Agri-Service stock will be determined by an evaluation done by a government approved trustee. The whole company will be operated in a way that protects the employee’s long term investment, but at the same time has the goal of constantly growing so that the company and employee value is multiplied.”
Management and daily operation of the company have not changed, and employees still have the same structure and supervisors as before, even though they are co-owners.
“We’ve still got the same great people doing the same great jobs, and we hope that our customers notice that every Agri-Service employee has the new attitude of “I’ll solve your problem, because I am the owner,” said Buttars.
What do employees think of it? Kevin Bermingham, a service technician in Twin Falls, said “I think it’s great. I don’t think I’ll be looking for a job anywhere else. In the break room, we’re already talking about how we can all make it work better.”
Added Terreton salesman Tom Ricks, “It says a lot for the company to put that kind of trust in each employee. I can’t think of a single negative thing about it. The younger employees who stay around for their whole careers will really reap the benefit.”
The Agri-Service conversion to an ESOP was orchestrated by John Kober, a managing partner of Morgan Lewis, a worldwide law firm with specialists in ESOP transactions.
Kobermade several trips to Twin Falls to get the deal done, along with Steve Allison, an ESOP consultant who did a lot of the logistics work with the ESOP trustee. Said Sharon Tse, Agri-Service CFO, “It took a lot of work to get all the negotiation and paperwork done to create an employee owned trust, but it is great for the employees. The whole thing was done for their long-term benefit, and I am proud to be a co-owner along with the rest of the employees.”
What are Buttars’ personal plans, now his company is employee owned? “I still have a contract to work for Agri-Service for a few years. It was my baby, and I am glad to turn it over to great employees, who deserve just as much of the credit for where we are. I’ve turned a lot of the daily operations over to Clint Schnoor, our new chief operating officer, and the executive management team. I plan on getting out to the different locations more often to visit with our employees and our customers."
Agri-Service first opened for business in Twin Falls Idaho in 1990 with Buttars and four local employees. Besides maintaining its position as the largest AGCO dealership in North America for 10 straight years, Agri-Service has ben awarded as AGCO’s largest parts selling dealership for 17 years.
Other major brands sold and serviced by Agri-Service include Kubota (small diesel tractors), Gehl (loaders, telehandlers, and skid steers), and several other lines including Darf and LMC rakes, Stinger bale wagons, Haybuster, Schmeiser, Patz, and Gen.Implement.