This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
During the 46 years since Catherine Smith and I formed a corporation and began to publish books from such unlikely places as a large studio in Santa Barbara, my mother-in-law's back room in Layton and an old car repair building, I have felt that publishing books is a high and special calling. Classic publishing, the path we have hoped to pursue, contributes ideas, culture, and pleasure throughout the world. A high calling indeed. We started as Peregrine Press, moved to Peregrine Smith, then finally to Gibbs Smith, Publisher. We adopted a motto that we have tried to live up to: "to enrich and inspire humankind." We built an office/warehouse and re-purposed a barn, filled positions with capable associates and began to pursue the dream. Following an eclectic path of interests, we publish and distribute books we believe in. It has been a full and satisfying career.
A publishing company is an organic and living institution, so it has always been with a sense of loss that we have watched many admired publishing houses disappear over the years, as they have been sold or absorbed into larger, more impersonal businesses. We wondered what would be the future for our own business. Could it survive beyond the founders? And, how could we make sure survival had a solid chance of succeeding?
We sought good ideas, and were introduced to the W.W. Norton plan of succession. Would that work for us? In Layton, probably not. So we explored ideas that would work for our place and circumstances. We came finally to the ESOP, a goofy sounding but effective and workable plan for transitioning a company from founder/owners to employees an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. It took us a few years because we really worried about the pitfalls we might encounter in such an arrangement. We worried that a wall of separation might pit employees against us; we considered that selling outright might well bring a considerably larger owner return; we considered the people we admire and respect who have spent their lives working for the business.
And it took us back to our early careers when we plunged deep into the labor movement with research and a book I wrote on Joe Hill, the IWW martyr executed in Utah 100 years ago on Nov. 19, 1915. We considered the mismatch that now exists in our country between top management and working people. Did we want to emulate that culture? As can be imagined, the prospect of employee ownership came to seem a compelling choice. Why not share the experience we, as owners, have enjoyed for almost half a century with others, and provide that entrepreneurial experience to all the opportunity to hold one's fate in one's own hands and do what is necessary to make it work.
We realize the meager cash and difficult problem days we remember will not be the same for ESOP members going forward. That is our warm memory. The future will go on from here into the next half century, with adequate facilities, experience and talent, to create another story, another life. We feel grateful for the past, and excited about such a future.
Gibbs M. Smith is founder and president of Gibbs Smith, Publisher.