Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.

Self-Employed Employees

Few business models are capable of bridging America’s wealth-disparity gap more effectively than worker buyouts. When employees own companies, or even large stakes in companies, it takes the wealth and power out of the hands of a single powerful boss or a small group of partners and turns it over to the employees who make the company run. Only about 10% of American workers own equity stakes in the businesses they work for, but those who do enjoy a unique level of job security, financial security, influence, self-determination, and, of course, the pride of ownership.

Related: 34 Companies That Changed American Culture for Better or Worse


Publix Super Markets

With more than 225,000 employees, Publix is by far America’s largest employee-owned company. Founded in Florida in 1930, the supermarket chain dominates the region with more than 1,280 stores, not to mention a network of distribution centers and manufacturing facilities such as dairies, bakeries, and deli kitchens. The founding family, which still owns a big chunk of stock, is one of the wealthiest in America. The current Publix CEO began his career as a grocery bag boy. Publix is widely considered to be one of the best places to work thanks to a great benefits package and an employee-centric culture — and it’s got the minuscule turnover rate and long average employee tenure to prove it.

Related: 28 Regional Grocery Stores That Shoppers Love

Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods

Bob’s Red Mill

Bob’s Red Mill is famous for its enormous assortment of milled grains and the folksy, white-bearded older gentleman dressed in red on the packaging. That’s not a marketing character. That’s Bob. Bob Moore founded the company in 1978 with his wife, Charlee, and grew it into a familiar brand in the country’s biggest supermarket chains. Many employee-owned companies are actually only majority employee owned; Bob’s Red Mill is one of just 8,000 companies in America wholly employee owned, despite an employee stock ownership plan dating back only to 2010.

Related: 40 Best Neighborhood Food Co-ops Still Thriving After Decades

WinCo Foods in the Orenco area of Hillsboro, Oregon by M.O. Stevens (CC BY-SA)

WinCo Foods

A supermarket staple in the West, WinCo Foods’ ESOP has three decades of impressive returns under its belt. Since 1986, the plan’s stock values have averaged gains of 18% compounded annually. WinCo’s website breaks that math down into a simple formula: If an employee had taken a $5,000 company contribution in 1986, that employee would have $863,000 worth of stock today from just that one year alone.

Related: 20 Work Benefits You Shouldn't Overlook in Your Job Hunt

Kamonchai Mattakulphon/istockphoto

Graybar Electric

Supply-chain management services firm Graybar Electric is worthy of a place on the list on its legacy alone. A Fortune 500 company with 8,700 employees and more than a century and a half of history, the company’s employee stock purchase plan dates back to 1929, which was not a particularly good year to get started in the stock market. That year, Graybar employees took over the company when they bought out Western Electric. An important and headline-grabbing event in history, the moment stands as one of the very first times that a collective of employees owned a large American company.

For more stories like this,
please sign up for our free newsletters.



According to the National Center for Employee Ownership, corporate staffing firm Penmac is the second-largest employee-owned business in America. With 28,000 employees, that shows just how massive No. 1 Publix is, but in terms of companies that are 100% company owned, Penmac actually takes top billing. Penmac has 32 branches in eight states that serve 1,200 business clients. It all started in 1988 when founder Patti Penny used her human resources experience to open her own temp agency in a small, three-room office in Missouri. In 2010, Penny transferred ownership of the company to her employees.

Related: 15 Industries That Would Benefit From a Recession


Equal Exchange

Founded in 1986, Equal Exchange is one of the early pioneers of the fair-trade movement. It successfully challenged the large plantation model that allowed U.S. importers to exploit poor farmers in other countries for generations. Dealing in coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, nuts, sugar, and other commodities that are commonly sourced through exploited labor in poor countries, Equal Exchange raised public awareness while becoming very successful itself. Working exclusively with democratically operated small farming co-ops, it practices what it preaches. Equal Exchange is, itself, a worker-owned cooperative. Employees get a bulging benefits package, which even includes a trip abroad to visit partner producers at the source.

Related: 26 Companies That Are Doing Good Deeds With Your Dollars

Former Parsons headquarters in Pasadena, California by Coolcaesar (CC BY-SA)


Security, intelligence, defense, and infrastructure engineering firm Parsons has taken a wandering path to its current status as a multibillion-dollar corporate giant. Founded in 1944, it was a public company from 1959-1964, when it went private. Then, its roughly 15,000 employees took ownership of the company’s stock in 1985. On May 8, 2019, Parsons went public again, this time with a highly publicized IPO that netted the company $500 million. It’s still a majority employee-owned firm, however, as the IPO offloaded only 20% of the company’s shares.


Black & Veatch

Black & Veatch is a century-old engineering firm and construction company with 10,000 employees across the world. In 2019, it celebrated 20 years of those employees doubling as owners — the workforce achieved 100% ownership in 2015. Its worldwide projects, which span from Chicago to Singapore, earned the company $3.7 billion in revenue in 2019 alone.

Davey tree trimming operation Superior Township, Michigan by Dwight Burdette (CC BY)

Davey Tree Expert

One of the 10 largest employee-owned companies in America, Davey Tree Expert is 100% worker owned. The global tree, lawn, and utility consulting and services company was founded by the Davey family in 1880, and the family continued owning it through the late 1970s, when the family decided to sell. A group of 114 employees collaborated with the Davey family to transfer ownership to the company’s workers and in 1979, that original group of 114 made the first direct stock purchase. Then another 400 employees bought into the very first ESOP.

Wikimedia Commons

W.L. Gore & Associates

It would be unfair to call Gore a global corporation because that implies its pursuits are limited to terrestrial matters — and some of its products have gone to Mars, thanks to its participation in the Perseverance rover mission. One of America’s 200 largest privately held companies, it does $3.8 billion in annual revenues and its 10,000 employees have an ownership stake through the company’s associate stock ownership plan.

Related: 17 Incredible Feats of American Ingenuity Across the Country


Schreiber Foods

Founded as the L.D. Schreiber Cheese Co. in 1945, Schreiber Foods, out of Green Bay, Wisconsin, is now the largest privately held cheese company in the world. In 1962, Schreiber incorporated when 13 employees bought company stock. In 1968, Schreiber allowed employees beyond the original 13 to do the same. In 1993, the company passed $1 billion in annual sales, then $2 billion in 2001, then $4 billion in 2008, then $5 billion in 2014.



Architecture, design, engineering, and environmental construction firm HDR has expanded its line of services to include things such as asset management, research, consulting, and environmental services. After more than 100 years of continuous operation, its 10,000 employee-owners are enough to earn it a spot among the 10 largest employee-owned companies in America. The firm operates more than 200 offices in 13 countries.

Scheels in Sparks, Nevada by Little Mountain 5 (CC BY-SA)


In 1902, a German immigrant named Friedrich A. Scheele planted 3 acres of potatoes in his adopted home of Sabin, Minnesota. He used the $300 he earned from his very first harvest to open a hardware and general-merchandise store that would grow to become the Fargo, North Dakota-headquartered sporting goods chain we know as Scheels. It’s a fun shopping experience. The chain’s stores are known for arcade games, aquariums, and, of course, the famous Scheels ferris wheel. With more than 6,000 employees and stores in 13 states, Scheels holds the distinction of being 100% employee owned.

Acadian Ambulance by raymondclarkeimages (CC BY-NC)

Acadian Ambulance

People who have experienced emergencies in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee might be familiar with Acadian Ambulance. Created in 1971 in response to new regulations that put emergency transportation in short supply in much of the country, Acadian was started by three co-founders with eight medics working out of two ambulances. That fleet now contains not only 600 ambulances, medical airplanes, and helicopters. Its ESOP dates back to 1993, and its employees own 80% of the company’s stock.

FG Trade/istockphoto

Robert W. Baird & Co.

When people think of multinational investment banks, employee-owned companies don’t usually come to mind, but that’s the business model of R.W. Baird, a financial services firm with more than a century of history. Its ESOP, its employee-centric corporate culture, and its sprawling benefits package has earned Baird a spot on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list since 2004.

Related: 24 Successful Businesses Launched During Economic Downturns