Peter Harken, the co-founder of internationally-renowned sailboat hardware and accessories manufacturer Harken Inc. in Pewaukee, says he and his late brother Olaf Harken rejected overtures from at least 50 potential acquirers over the years but now it’s time to “pass the baton.”

Harken, 83, who is the company’s chairman, announced to employees Wednesday in the company’s parking lot that the founders are selling the company by creating an employee stock ownership plan. He said he will remain with the company with a new title of “ambassador.”

Employees attending the event gave polite applause to the news and raised a toast of wine, beer and soda to the founding family and former executive Art MitchellPeter Harken and members of Olaf Harken’s family addressed the group. “It’s time to pass the baton to those who do the work and really make the company,” Peter Harken said.

The management team led by Bill Goggins, who has been CEO since 2008, will stay in charge of the company that has several locations in the United States as well as in Europe, New Zealand and Australia, Harken said. Harken Inc. has about 400 employees worldwide and 220 in the United States, Goggins said. “This company will always be Peter and Olaf Harken’s company,” Goggins told employees. “As of today, it’s in our care and custody”.

Goggins promised to adhere to the business and workplace principles the Harkens followed throughout the company’s 52-year history. In an interview after the event, Goggins said he is grateful for the Harken family’s decision. “Peter and Olaf have always been uncompromising in making sure that whatever they decide for the succession of the business is for the best for the people,” Goggins said. “That’s the thing that’s pretty neat.”

Olaf Harken died in October 2019 at age 80. His daughter Heidi Middleton told employees creating an ESOP for the company was his dream. The company financed the creation of the ESOP with a loan from Wells Fargo and some of the proceeds from the June 2019 sale of the Harken Inc. headquarters for $15 million to a private real estate investment group, Goggins said. In 2012, Harken Inc. opened the building that’s visible from Interstate 94 east of Wisconsin 16 and remains on the site through a sale-leaseback arrangement.

Peter Harken told employees the company’s ESOP essentially is an employee stock-option plan that’s similar to profit sharing. At the time Harken Inc. sold its Pewaukee real estate, Peter Harkin said the plan was to apply some of the proceeds to acquisitions and the company completed two this year.

Read the rest of the article here at Milwaukee Business Journal