A successful firm

May 06, 2019

As a 100 percent ESOP, 50-year-old Pennoni has the culture, history, and staying power to improve the lives of its employees and the community it serves.

Employee stock ownership plans, although not unique, are increasingly popular, and they have been known to save jobs, prevent companies from moving out of communities, and improve retirement security for employees. A federally qualified employee benefit program, the ESOP gives employees a means of accumulating significant equity holdings that will allow holders to save additional money for retirement, and as the participating company increases in value, the stock in the ESOP, including the employee’s share, increases in value.

At Pennoni, our ESOP was established in 1994 to allow ownership of the company to be transferred from Chuck Pennoni, the founder, to the employees who helped build the firm to what it is today. An ESOP is an employee-owner program that provides employees with an ownership interest in the company, empowering employee-owners to more directly benefit from their efforts, further ensuring the steadfast commitment and passion found in all corners of our service offerings. As Pennoni’s Philidelphia office director, let me explain what the ESOP means to me.

I was born and raised in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia and have lived, completed my education, and worked in the city my entire life. I began my engineering career in the mid-1980s as a Drexel co-op working first for the city and then for Pennoni. I have worked full time at Pennoni since 1988. My father was a war veteran and also lived in the city his entire life. He worked as a civil engineer for the Streets and Water Departments for 30 years.

As a grandson of Italian immigrants to this great city, education and improving one’s self and community have always been important in our family structure. These principles live on at Pennoni.

The three founding goals of Pennoni are “excellent professional reputation, profit, and growth.” These goals along with the pillars of “honesty, integrity, and service” define the culture of Pennoni. Keeping that culture alive as the firm transitioned its ownership to an ESOP was important.

I can remember attending a Saturday morning seminar in the early 1990s at Community College of Philadelphia to learn more about ESOPs. As education is also extremely important to Chuck Pennoni, he asked an expert on the subject to explain how an ESOP works and how the ownership of the company would transition to the employees. It was the right choice as the culture of the company remained unchanged as the ownership transitioned. This is often not the case if an owner decides to sell to another owner or outside investors.

Equally important, the ESOP allowed the company to continue to successfully grow. This growth provided opportunity for employees who remained with the firm. The growth of the company has benefitted the employee owners who have seen their ESOP retirement accounts increase in value. The Philadelphia community has also benefited from Pennoni’s growth as it has allowed the firm and its employees to participate in and donate to many charitable organizations and causes.

One of the reasons I am still employed at Pennoni after 30 years is due to the growth and success of our business. Unlike friends in many other companies, I didn’t need to leave my firm to find opportunity. I consider myself fortunate. I don’t know if I would be part owner of a firm if I didn’t work at an ESOP company. It has given me a retirement benefit that will greatly improve the financial stability of my family.

It also makes me proud to be able to work in the city I grew up in at a company that serves the community well. With an ESOP in place, we dedicate ourselves daily to client service, to giving back to the community, and to nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit of our employee-owners.

There is a very healthy culture and attitude at Pennoni which can be credited to its founder and leadership. The ESOP has allowed this culture to continue because our employees recognize that the performance of their own accounts is directly related to the success of the firm.

Our firm continues to succeed with Chuck Pennoni’s original mantra, and we pride ourselves on the core values of honesty, integrity, and service. Fostering an environment like this has always been a priority at Pennoni. Transitioning to a 100 percent ESOP firm reiterated the depth of commitment to our employees and the value we place on partnering with our employee-owners to deliver exceptional service to our clients.

Mark Celoni, P.E. serves as vice president and office director of Pennoni’s Philadelphia office. He can be reached at mceloni@pennoni.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.