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Employee Ownership of ME’s Cianbro Corp. Virtually Complete

Wed January 12, 2005 - Northeast Edition
CEG



PITTSFIELD, ME (AP) Employee ownership of Maine’s largest construction company will soon be complete.

The four Cianchette brothers who founded Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. in 1949 decided 25 years ago to gradually shift ownership of the company to its employees, a process that was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2004.

“This is a milestone for our company,” said Peter Vigue, Cianbro’s president and CEO, the first from outside the Cianchette family to run the company, which now has a work force of 2,000.

The founders of Cianbro were seeking a way to keep the company alive after their retirement. Ival “Bud” Cianchette said they considered selling, merging or taking Cianbro public.

“We knew something had to be different, because we wouldn’t be around forever,” he said. “[Yet] the other options probably wouldn’t be good for many of the people in the company.”

He added: “If we’d taken another route, our offices would probably not be in Pittsfield, Maine.”

Outside stockholders, he noted, would not tolerate the costs and difficulties of doing business in a relatively remote town of 4,200 far from the centers of industry and commerce.

Cianbro first began sharing profits with employees in 1964, dividing $60,100 among the 80 or so workers the company then had. The ownership shift began in 1979 but was carried out gradually in order to maintain financial stability.

“It was done in a way that didn’t disrupt what we were trying to do in terms of growing the business,” Vigue said. “This business is extremely capital-intensive.”

Some analysts worry that employee-ownership plans can leave employees vulnerable, particularly if stock options are included in a worker’s overall pay package. If the company collapses, an employee’s nest egg can vanish.

At Cianbro, stock and cash profits are applied about evenly to retirement accounts that employees can access when they turn 55. Employees can reinvest cash in the accounts, which are held by a third party.

Employees begin to receive ownership within a year of working for Cianbro and receive full ownership benefits after seven years.

Bud and Ken — two of Cianbro’s four founding brothers, along with Carl and Chuck — are alive today, and both serve on the board of directors.

Despite the growth and changes, company leaders credit employee ownership with creating what they see as a we’re-all-in-this-together atmosphere, a teamwork approach to doing business.

“It’s unique,” Vigue said. “It makes us a little different.”