As Eugene C. Barton, a second-generation lumberman in Jonesboro, Ark., entered his golden years in the 1960s, he wanted to make sure his firm, E.C. Barton & Co., carried on after he was gone. With little interest from his own family to stay in the business, he transferred ownership to an employee-run board of directors, and gave it the mission of maintaining the company as an ongoing concern. By 1975, that board chose a new ownership structure for the operation, one that Congress had recently introduced: an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP.
When John Askin Jr. walks into work each morning at the Standard Group, a distributor of exterior building materials based in Tinton Falls, N.J., the CFO sees exactly what was sold at each of his six locations the day before. Logging onto a business dashboard that's part of Activant Solutions' Performance Driver Suite, he can see the gross profit on each order that his salespeople wrote. He doesn't have to search for those numbers; the information is "pushed" to him based on predetermined parameters.