Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass

Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass

For the love of glass

George and Tom are retiring. They sold their Berkeley-based manufacturing company to the employees.

“When it came time for us to think about succession, the thought of finding someone to buy us out seemed highly improbable. We have a very distinct niche in the manufacturing world, and there wasn’t any obvious path forward.”

Tom Adams (right, standing with George Chittenden), co-founders and now employee-owners of Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass

Background 

Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass was started in 1993 by George Chittenden (left) and Tom Adams (right), two skilled glassblowers who had minimal business experience. Over the course of 25 years, their business has become well regarded worldwide for its intelligent designs and for the quality and accuracy of its custom glassware (think tools for science). As their business is highly specialized, they now find themselves in a dilemma shared by many impending retirees. Their situation is increasingly common: they are seeking an exit strategy that works for them and for their employees. Tom put it this way; “When it came time for us to think about succession, the thought of finding someone to buy us out seemed highly improbable. We have a very distinct niche in the manufacturing world, and there wasn’t any obvious path forward.”

Tom began scientific glassblowing in 1971, working for a shop in Berkeley, which George joined in 1984, having previously apprenticed for several years with a European-trained glassblower. Less than a decade later, an investor with a Master’s degree in business (but no experience in scientific glass) bought that business. Within three years, Tom, the production manager, left, and George, concerned about his future in the hands of the new owner, panicked. He went to Tom with a half-baked idea that turned into their now thriving company, Adams & Chittenden.

Becoming employee-owned

Tom and George first looked at the idea of employee ownership through the National Center for Employee Ownership, an organization specializing in Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). After an initial consultation, however, it became clear that an ESOP wasn’t workable at their scale. In March 2017, Tom was listening to NPR when he heard Alison Lingane, the co-founder of Project Equity, discussing their approach to helping another Berkeley business, one facing a similar situation to their own; transition to employee ownership. So, he contacted Project Equity, and the transformation at A&C began. 

Transmitting a combined 80+ years experience in an idiosyncratic field isn’t trivial and the thought of passing on this accumulated knowledge in a short amount of time concerned both George and Tom. Would it really be possible for someone else to step into their shoes given the time frame? After all, when George and Tom started, they, themselves, weren’t seasoned business people, but they learned. George noted, “hiring Project Equity as a third party brings objectivity to the table for the employees. The straightforward honesty with which they approach the work is credible and valuable. They help the employees understand that we are operating in good faith.” As they transition their employees to owners, Tom and George notice their employees paying greater attention and taking responsibility for the work and the business. Project Equity also helps Tom and George continue doing what they do well—blowing glass and running the business. “Before engaging with Project Equity, the process seemed daunting and relatively obscure, not to mention impossible to imagine as an additional burden” continued George. “Project Equity’s guidance and support in the formulations of issues such as bylaws, decision-making tools, legal help, and the financial pieces have made it easier than we thought. They’ve delivered it in a clear and accessible format.”

Business transition logistics 

Tom and George had a lot of questions about how the employee ownership transition process would work. How could the employees get the capital to purchase the business? What role would they play and how long would it take to transition out? They also were concerned with how the company would live without their leadership and maintain the unique culture, character and independence. As a legacy business in West Berkeley, they also wanted to see the company maintain a thriving manufacturing space in the neighborhood.
 
The transition of Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass to an employee-owned company took 19 months. The sale was the first one to be financed through Accelerate Employee Ownership, a joint initiative between Project Equity and a national CDFI, Shared Capital. Accelerate Employee Ownership provides flexible financing for employee ownership transitions. For the employees to become owners, one of the requirements is a buy-in of $2,000 which they have made possible through payroll deductions. They have 8 employees, 7 of whom are employee-owners. George continues on as CEO, primarily focused on operations and staff management and Tom is the CFO, spending his time transitioning his role as he eases into retirement.
 

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted normal operations, they have managed to keep the workflow going while observing distancing protocols. Like so many businesses these days, they have resorted to Zoom as a tool for communication, but the actual training in glassblowing has been hampered by the global situation. Tom likes to say “it’s hard to blow glass at home….” A lot of the work in their first year following their employee ownership transition has been around strengthening and creating new processes that have allowed them to communicate and thrive as a group of owners.The whole coop meets weekly to review status of the business. The team is implementing good and important practices such as open book management and have monthly board meetings for trainings on growing a healthy employee-owned company. Project Equity continues to hold regular coaching calls with key members of the board.

Outcomes

When asked what’s next for both George and Tom, they smile; the possibility of not having so many responsibilities and enjoying the fruits of their labor seems real and not so far away.

Tom is older than George and is on track to retire sooner. But hopefully, they will both be able to continue to enjoy the work as they begin their “glide path out.” As employee-owners, they can continue to support the business and reputation they have built from scratch, and help shepherd in the next generation of scientific glassblowers. They have no doubt that this old-style craft can and will continue to be relevant in this century. And for them, slowing down feels like the natural order of things.

 

How it works

Understand the steps to transition your business

Learn from others

See how others transitioned and how the financing worked

How Project Equity can help

Schedule a free consultation

How it works

Understand the steps to transition your business

Learn from others

See how others transitioned and how the financing worked

How Project Equity can help

Schedule a free consultation

Read more

Case studies

Free consultation

for businesses interested in employee ownership

 


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Recent employee ownership events and conferences

Recent employee ownership events and conferences

Recent employee ownership events and conferences

Urban Manufacturing Alliance

The Urban Manufacturing Alliance 2018 Gathering was held in Pittsburgh and focused on Building Coalitions to Create Equitable Manufacturing Ecosystems. Patty Viáfara, Project Equity’s Client Services Manager, pictured right with Rasheed Aziz, from CitywideYouth Development in Baltimore, was invited to highlight our work with cities to help them identify and mitigate the potential loss of manufacturing business. With our colleagues, we were able to provide a broad understanding of the work being done across the nation to create and preserve valuable manufacturing jobs.


B Corp Champions Retreat

The 2018 B Corp Champions Retreat had in attendance nearly 800 mission-driven business leaders dedicated to using business as a force for good. Donna Sky, Project Equity’s Business Development Manager, presented the interactive breakout session, “The Benefits of Being an Employee-Owned B Corp,” and moderated a dynamic panel. Speakers included successful employee-owners, Blake Jones from Namaste Solar, Corey Kohn from DOJO4 and Bob Kingery, owner of Southern Energy Management, who spoke about his process, as a business owner considering an employee ownership conversion.


 

Exit Planning Institute Summit

The 2018 Exit Planning Institute Summit in Nashville, TN had over 220 Certified Exit Planners in attendance. Alison Lingane presented a break out session that focused on busting the myths about employee ownership, and featured examples where it is a preferred exit strategy.

 


Co-op Impact Conference

Hilary Abell, Project Equity’s Co-founder, represented our role in the Workers to Owners collaborative on a panel discussion at the Co-op Impact Conference in October. Workers to Owners is a national group of organizations coming together to catalyze a wave of conversions to cooperative business ownership across the nation, with a focus on front-line and rural workers and communities of color.

The Co-op Impact Conference brings together leaders from all kinds of cooperatives (worker, consumer, producer, housing, credit unions etc.). Here are some inspiring tidbits we picked up about the impact cooperatives are having around the country:

  • The average farmer member of Organic Valley cooperative has a herd of forty cows. So this $1B company makes it viable for small family farms to not only survive but thrive in today’s economy, truly supporting “the little guy” at scale.
  • Resident-Owned Communities, of which there are 200+ across the country, are not only giving people housing security but also inspiring them to be more civically-engaged. As one community leader said, “I’m a property owner now; I’m gonna run for office!”
  • The Roanoke Electric Cooperative, in North Carolina is one of 900 rural electric coops covering 3/4 of our country. When no internet service providers was willing to bring broadband to their rural low-income communities, the cooperative did it!

These are amazing examples of cooperative impact at scale. So why is it that only 24% of those surveyed are aware of cooperatives? Help us spread the word:, cooperatives and employee ownership work!

Are you concerned about locally owned businesses closing in your community?

Let us know how we can help.

How it works

Understand the steps to transition your business

Learn from others

See how others transitioned and how the financing worked

Free consultations

See how Project Equity can help you


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How baby boomer retirement can unlock a massive wealth transfer

How baby boomer retirement can unlock a massive wealth transfer

How baby boomer retirement can unlock a massive wealth transfer

“Employee ownership is both a profound and a simple business model in which business decisions are made through the lens of what is good for their employees and by extension, their families and their communities. It creates true pathways to opportunity and quality jobs.”

Alison Lingane (3rd from right), Project Equity’s Co-founder, distilled the power of employee ownership in only 6 minutes at the Prosperity Now’s Summit in September.

As baby boomer business owners in your community begin to retire, what is to become of their businesses? Think of the ones you frequent, or that provide important jobs in your community. With baby boomers owning nearly half of these businesses, neighborhoods, relationships and local jobs are at risk.

In this video from her presentation, Alison goes on to reveal the story of a bakery and a glass manufacturing business’ journey to employee ownership. Learn more about how we can help businesses in your community.

 

How it works

Understand the steps to transition your business

Learn from others

See how others transitioned and how the financing worked

Free consultations

See how Project Equity can help you


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Project Equity joins the board of the California Center for Employee Ownership

Project Equity joins the board of the California Center for Employee Ownership

Project Equity joins the board of the California Center for Employee Ownership

Touted as “picking up where Merger and Acquisition firms leave off” employee ownership centers are powerful regional organizations that expand the retirement options for owners of privately-held businesses. We are excited, through our board involvement, to play a role in the growth of the California Center for Employee Ownership and its influence across California.

Joining the board of the CCEO gives us the opportunity to collaborate more closely with our regional colleagues, educate California’s leaders on how baby boomer retirement and the small business closure crisis will affect their communities and help expand employee ownership across the state.

How it works

Understand the steps to transition your business

Learn from others

See how others transitioned and how the financing worked

Free consultations

See how Project Equity can help you


Join our mailing list!







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Historic bill passes Congress

Historic bill passes Congress

Historic bill passes Congress

The Main Street Employee Ownership Act is a major federal breakthrough addressing the small business closure crisis and wealth inequality in our country. The new law empowers the Small Business Administration to assist in the conversion of businesses to employee ownership and updates the SBA’s lending practices to support the process.

Project Equity was pleased to support this bipartisan effort to make employee ownership a more viable succession option. This act has the potential to make a tremendous difference for small business owners and workers and we’re poised to take advantage of it.

Interested in learning more about employee ownership?

Just released!

New studies in regions across the U.S., including Washington StateBerkeley and Long Beach, CA show millions of businesses at risk and point to employee ownership as a solution.

Free consultation

for businesses interested in employee ownership.

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Adams and Chittenden: Mo’s Story

Adams and Chittenden: Mo’s Story

Adams and Chittenden: Mo’s Story

Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass, a twenty-five-year-old company in Berkeley, CA, is world renowned for manufacturing specialized laboratory glassware. In February 2017, co-founders Tom Adams and George Chittenden brought in Project Equity to assist with their journey to transition company ownership to their employees.

Moshe Schandelson has been blowing glass with Tom and George for the last four years and is preparing to become one of the new owners. We interviewed Mo in the summer of 2018.

Q: Now that Adams and Chittenden Scientific Glass has started the process of transitioning to Employee Ownership, how has the work changed for you?

Mo: I find myself shifting my by-the-hour mentality and thinking holistically about how this job relates to my livelihood. I take the workload more personally and seriously, and realize the difference I make for the business really makes a difference for me, too. I find myself not only pushing through the boring aspects of work but even volunteering for more of it because someone has to do it and get it done. If I show that I care this much, it will inspire someone else to step up, and I expect that from fellow owners.

Q: What is the scariest thing for you as you are starting the process of converting to employee ownership?

Mo: The finances are the scariest thing for me. We’re working with big numbers that, being used to living from paycheck to paycheck, I have not considered or worked with before. I’m comforted that the business is thriving, but keeping it thriving is daunting. We are all relatively young and this is a big step for us. We also realize it will be hard for the founders to let go of their responsibilities and we will all have to evolve in our new roles. However, we’re very optimistic that this will work out.

Q: What has been easy about the process that you thought would be difficult?

Mo: Voicing my opinion. Working with Project Equity has been a great experience. They make the conversion process simpler than it seems and help me make sure my voice is heard. A lot of the financial terminology is new but I feel comfortable being myself and asking the questions I need to in order to understand the process. Going through business planning and financial literacy classes with them has opened us all up to understanding the intricacies of how the business is run. They demystify bylaws and board structure and help us map how decisions are made. They are definitely shepherding a successful path forward for our coop. I also realize I don’t have to change myself to be an owner in this business; I can be a professional and still have fun.

Q: How do you see the business growing when you officially become an owner?

Mo: I see it continuing to thrive the way it is. We might find a larger facility and hire more people to work with us, but I don’t think we’ll change much. Although, it would be cool to become more engaged with the local glass blowing community. My friends and family are excited and happy for me; it would be nice to open our shop to the public more often and share our work with those who support us.

Q: How do you envision ownership affecting your future?

Mo: Hopefully, financially, but I also see it positively affecting our community. I think we’re lucky that Tom and George have already set up this thriving business. We live in a high-tech environment near enormous companies with thousands of employees. Many are our clients; without us they cannot do their work. We also work in a neighborhood that is being gentrified—there is a lot of industry right next to homes. Inevitably the industrial buildings are being torn down to create more condos and townhomes. We are members in the West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies, an organization standing for the right of small businesses and artists to stay and thrive in this area. I think if we become a coop and show the neighborhood we can stay here after the founders retire, it will inspire other owners of manufacturing businesses near us to follow a similar succession plan.

Interested in exploring other case studies?

Just released!

New studies in regions across the U.S., including Washington StateBerkeley and Long Beach, CA show millions of businesses at risk and point to employee ownership as a solution.

Free consultation

for businesses interested in employee ownership.

Join our mailing list!







View previous campaigns >