Employees of Hardy Diagnostics in Santa Maria are getting used to thinking like the CEO, who has given workers majority control of company shares in anticipation of handing over the reins entirely.
The process could provide peace of mind and job security for the more than 230 employees, some who have been with the company since it moved from Santa Barbara in 1991.
Hardy Diagnostics joins about 12,000 companies across the country with ESOPs or similar trust-based plans, which offer employees real company shares over time at no cost to them.
Those familiar with Hardy Diagnostics wouldn’t be surprised by the move, since the company in 2003 began an Open Book Management system, which made its financials and operations transparent to employees who otherwise wouldn’t have insight into the privately owned company.
Company president Jay Hardy had been planning the smooth hand-off for some time, and eventually will turn over his remaining 30 percent in shares to workers, who own the other 70 percent.
“Owning Hardy Diagnostics has been tremendously rewarding for me,” he said in a statement. “Now, everyone at Hardy Diagnostics can share in the joy and rewards of ownership, just as I have.”
Hardy retains day-to-day control of operations until he retires, which has yet to be determined.
Employee ownership cultivates rights and responsibilities for workers, who would resume control of a company that’s steadily growth since Hardy and Robert Shibata founded then Hardy Media in 1980.
“The most obvious (change) is that, as employees, we all now have hopefully a view that is more like an owner would have,” said Mike Welch, the company’s human resources manager since 2008. “We all can control where the company goes by making human resources as competitive as we can be. We keep adding people all the time.”
Hardy Diagnostics has consistently created jobs over the years, growing from around 160 employees in 2008 to closer to 250, most who work where the company has been headquartered near the Santa Maria Airport since outgrowing the South Coast.
Hardy has eight distribution centers throughout the United States, and manufacturing takes place in Santa Maria and at a facility in Springboro, Ohio.
The company is hiring for its latest venture — a new restaurant called The Moxie Café, slated to open in March near headquarters on West McCoy Lane.
Welch said Hardy was away at a conference this week to learn more about the ESOP process and how to drive the message home for employees.
“People aren’t used to thinking like that,” Welch said. “If you make the company great, which we want everyone to do, then that becomes a great thing for you.”