When private equity firm KKR announced on Monday the $3 billion sale of CHI Overhead Doors to steel company Nucor, it created a windfall for hundreds of hourly workers at the tiny Arthur plant in the Illinois, who will each receive between $20,000 and $800,000 upon closing of the transaction. .
The deal represents a huge return on investment for KKR, which bought the garage door maker for $600 million in 2015. For the employees, who were invested in the business at no cost, the sale is potentially life-altering.
“I had no idea it would be a big deal,” said Rhonda Jamison, 60, office manager at CHI Overhead Doors.
Jamison, a 17-year veteran of the garage door company, learned of the sale and its six-figure payout at an all-employee meeting last week. Payouts vary by seniority and salary, with some longtime truckers — the highest-paid hourly workers — bringing in more than $800,000 per sale.
More than 630 hourly workers and truck drivers will receive an average of $180,000 from the sale, the company said.
Located in Arthur, a village of about 2,100 people south of Champaign, the 41-year-old company manufactures garage doors for commercial and residential use. When KKR bought the company in 2015, it allowed all 800 workers – including employees – to participate in the stock plan as a free benefit.
Employees who earned more than $100,000 a year were also allowed to invest their own money in the stock plan.
The program has been rolled out by New York-based KKR across 25 portfolio companies since 2011. The garage door manufacturer, which has delivered KKR’s highest return on investment in more than 30 years, has proven the value of the stock plan for both ownership and employees.
“We’re doing it because it’s obviously good for workers,” said Pete Stavros, 47, co-head of private equity at KKR and president of CHI Overhead Doors. “And it turns out it’s a smart business, too. This leads to a more engaged, stable, financially resilient workforce that is less likely to leave the workforce, leading to better results for businesses and investors.
Stavros, an Arlington Heights native whose father was a union road grader at a Chicago construction company, developed the model to give hourly employees a free equity stake. In addition to participation, employees were allocated $1 million a year to improve the factory, investing in everything from air conditioning to new break rooms and a cafeteria.
Productivity flourished, Stavros said, with revenue growing 120% and profit margin rising from 21% to 35% when KKR owned CHI.
Last month, Stavros helped launch a nonprofit, Ownership Works, to help proliferate the employee ownership model at more companies.
Founded in 1981, CHI Overhead Doors is Arthur’s largest employer, about three hours south of Chicago. The manufacturer, which has had four private shareholders in the new millennium, plans to continue operations in the same location under new ownership, Nucor, a North Carolina-based steel producer.
The sale, which is expected to close in June, subject to regulatory approval, will generate more than $360 million in payments for 800 employees. Hourly employees will receive about $114 million of the proceeds, while salaried employees will receive about $250 million, the company said.
When Stavros announced the deal in front of about 400 employees last Wednesday, with potential payouts projected on the big screen, Jamison and his colleagues were overwhelmed by the news.
“The whole crowd went crazy,” Jamison said. “Grown men were crying. I almost fainted.
Jamison, who lives near Atwood, will receive “several hundred thousand dollars” from the sale. She plans to pay off her home mortgage and several loans, and use some of the proceeds from the sale to help a grandson with special needs.
However, she does not plan to leave work anytime soon.
“There’s no reason for me to leave,” Jamison said. “I want to stay as long as they have me.”