Berkeley, Ill.-based KI Industries Inc., a supplier of decorative plastic and die-cast components, is driven by its employees in the form of an ESOP, or employee stock ownership plan. Since the ESOP inception in 2012, the organization has grown more than 500 percent, making a significant contribution to employee retirement plan accounts. With 65 employees at its Chicago-area headquarters, KI Industries is ranked No. 2 for the 2019 Best Places to Work list. “It has been an outstanding program,” President and CEO Michael MacLean said. “We’ve grown our stock price over the last six years. … It really speaks to the volumes to the culture of the people.”

MacLean pointed to the worker-focused nature at the company, saying the ESOP has helped enhance engagement of the employees. Leadership asked for volunteers to participate in an employee engagement focus group and received an “overwhelming number of responses,” MacLean said. The focus group discusses topics that affect the workplace, such as charitable donations and wellness benefits.

Some changes that were implemented from the focus group centered on health care. The company introduced a different carrier, reduced premiums for employees across the board and introduced four total plan choices, up from two choices. KI has also introduced a health savings account for 2019.

Charitable contributions are also chosen in the focus group. The company donates to one charity per quarter. “We just had an entire group go and pack lunches, so a significant part of our front office went and packed lunches for a half day,” MacLean said.

Each month a different employee is chosen for the monthly spotlight. The chosen employee fills out a questionnaire of 20-25 questions for other co-workers to get to know him or her. “I just absolutely love it. … For me and my role, it generates so much conversation with people because in one simple one-page employee spotlight, I learn the most about that individual that I could have never learned,” MacLean said. “Just the craziest questions, but … I don’t think we’ve ever had anybody shy away from participating in.”

October is Employee Ownership Month, so KI has activities for employees “every couple of days” throughout the month, such as massage chairs, contests, lunches and games, MacLean said. There’s also a “summer getaway,” where employees have done anything from going to the racetrack and an interactive golf venue to a Chicago Cubs game.

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