“Every day I see how our ESOP changes lives.”

August 21, 2012

Home News “Every day I see how our ESOP changes lives.”

Lifetouch, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., is in the memory business. As one of the nation’s largest yearbook, portrait, and school photography companies, Lifetouch has been capturing millions of memories for families since its beginnings in 1936.

Something else that’s unique about Lifetouch, says employee owner Susan Enlow, is that in 1977 its surviving founder sold the company to its employees. It was an ownership structure that made sense for Lifetouch, which has always depended on the personal touch and entrepreneurship of a nationwide workforce of professional photographers.

Enlow began representing Lifetouch as outside counsel in 1981, advising on ESOP and other business matters.   Susan became an employee owner herself when she and her law partner, former general counsel and current ESOP Trustee Richard Hassel, formed Lifetouch’s in-house legal department in 1994.

The photography business has faced real challenges as the spread of technology has created competition for professional photography companies. Lifetouch has survived and prospered in large part because employee owners have worked together to innovate and differentiate with high quality professional portrait products and services. And Lifetouch has been a haven for other private photography businesses which haven’t fared as well.

Susan says that she began to notice that owners of small photography businesses wanted to sell to Lifetouch because they and their employees would become owners and share in a retirement plan; something most of them did not have when they were independent.   “I would talk about how ownership motivates employees, how they have a real stake in the company’s success and their efforts can help increase the value of their retirement benefit,” said Enlow.

Susan is even more of an ESOP advocate to the 17,000 Lifetouch employee owners.  “Put simply, our ESOP has fostered  a culture that encourages our employee owners across the country to work together for the common good,” Enlow said.  “We know our individual contributions drive the cumulative results with higher levels of success and opportunities for our workers.”

Susan noted, “Every day I see how our ESOP changes lives, from new employee owners just starting to save for retirement to our retirees who are able to leave their long service to Lifetouch with healthy retirement balances and memories of working somewhere that is truly special.”

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