When Robert Bell went to work for Morton Buildings Inc. in Pearl in 1996, he was drawn by the fact that it was a family-owned business.
“It was a large company, but it was not corporate America,” said Bell, who is construction center general manager for Morton Buildings Inc. in Pearl. “Just like UPS or other private companies of the day, we have grown tremendously as far as our product line and construction innovations.”
Morton Buildings was founded in 1903 and has been in Mississippi for decades. It specializes in metal buildings for farm equipment and residential storage, large churches and residences. And now Bell has even more at stake because he is also an owner of the company. Morton Buildings recently became 100 percent employee owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP).
“Owner employees are getting the benefit of being rewarded on an annual basis with stock in our company,” Bell said. “We already had an ESOP with small ownership of the company. Now our stock was optioned to buy out the limited private ownership from the family that owned the company prior to us.”
Bell said the ESOP program is an incredible tool for allowing Morton Buildings to attract and retain top-level talent.
“Through no effort other than being a committed employee and part owner, a substantial retirement can be obtained not only through our stock ownership, but also contributing to a 401(k),” Bell said. “The company contributes to 401K contributions made by employees. Also, based on the local construction center’s profitability, the annual profit sharing can be quite substantial.”
Bell said being an owner gives employees a greater stake in ensuing the success of the company, which he said is geared towards customer satisfaction.
“It makes us as owners more responsible in terms of how we deal with every aspect of our work with the reward being an excellent retirement,” Bell said. “Employees will do all we can to make local construction centers profitable, which drives the amount of stock given out to employees. It is going to be an incredible recruiting tool. For anyone who looks at what is out there as far as retirement, it is unmatched as far as what we offer.”
The National Center for Employee Ownership has conducted research that shows that ESOP companies perform better and create more jobs than non-ESOP businesses. According to NCEO, Morton Buildings with 1,700 employees will be one of the top 75 largest ESOPs in North America.
John Russell, president and CEO of Morton Buildings, said an ESOP provides a stable, long-term plan for the company — which helps ensures the longevity of a company that has already been in existence for more than 100 years.
“This ESOP transaction will have an overwhelmingly positive effect on the company by further strengthening the historical bond among our very capable and committed employees,” Russell said.
Bell said business decisions are made by a combination of local and regional management working together.
“We all contribute to the ownership of our company, and we take that down to the hiring process,” Bell said.
Bell said their customers have responded favorably to the company becoming 100 percent employee owned.
“It has been a key tool to separate us from other manufacturers out there,” Bell said. “You can see advertisements in magazines for cheaper metal building packages. But they don’t have a fully integrated process. With Morton, we design and manufacture our product in eight company-owned manufacturing plants nationwide with our local Southern plant being just across the state line north of Birmingham, Ala. We deliver our product on our own fleet of trucks. We unload our product, unlike manufacturers who require you have equipment there to unload it. And then Morton employee crew members show up with Morton-issued equipment to make our customers’ dreams a reality. We can build the shell or be the complete general contractor for the entire project. We have almost 300 crews on a nationwide basis we can use in any circumstance that requires more manpower to be brought in.”
Bell said their buildings have some of the highest performing energy values of any structure available as a result of a combination of high R value insulation and ventilation. They also come with a five-year unlimited wind load velocity warranty.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a Hurricane Katrina times 10,” Bell said. “If it is damaged or devastated, Morton will replace or repair the shell product at no charge to the customer. We had in excess of 50 buildings on the Gulf Coast during Katrina and didn’t lose a single building.”
Bell said the type of buildings in most demand varies across the country. Some areas do primarily farm equipment storage while a lot of companies in the East focus on commercial buildings.
In Mississippi, their focus has been on churches, suburban accessory buildings and homes.
“We literally can’t keep up for the requests for information on the Morton residential homes,” Bell said. “Normally we build as a shell and let the owner be the general contractor.