Wood-Mizer finishes sale to employees

November 20, 2007
A shift in ownership of Wood-Mizer Products Inc. to its employees was completed Nov. 16 when employees acquired remaining shares in the Indianapolis manufacturer of portable sawmills.

Co-founders Don Laskowski and Dan Tekulve sold 53.9 percent of Wood-Mizer to an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, in June 2004.

The ESOP bought a small percentage of stock early this year, then last week acquired the remaining 42 percent.

Virtually all of the final 42 percent was acquired from family members and trusts tied to Laskowski, said George Cassiere, who owns Pace Financial Group, the Fishers firm that set up the ESOP.

Wood-Mizer President and CEO Jeff Laskowski said the total price to employees was about $35 million-less than half what the owners could have received on the open market.

The owners wanted to see the company survive and give the workers a chance to succeed, said Laskowski, who is a son of Don Laskowski and was elected chairman the day of the latest transaction.

"Any other form of trying to sell the company and take the equity out would have placed the company at significantly higher risk of being moved, sold, broken into pieces," he said. "This allowed the entity itself to continue and the culture to continue."

The culture includes a policy whereby the company donates about 10 percent of pre-tax profits to hospitals, orphanages and other mission projects in developing nations. The donations are made in the form of cash and in sawmills used to build the facilities.

Founded in 1979, Wood-Mizer has grown to $100 million in revenue a year and sells bandsaws in more than 30 countries. It has 630 workers, 200 of them at its headquarters operation at 8180 W. 10th Street.

Among its other locations is a shop in Lizton, west of Indianapolis, that builds lawnmowers for its Lastec unit. Wood-Mizer has 100 workers at a sawmill manufacturing plant in New Point between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

Wood-Mizer also operates a plant in Poland. Workers in other countries cannot take part in an ESOP, but the company wants to extend a special plan to them as well, Jeff Laskowski said.

ESOPs essentially are stock ownership programs that act as a pension plan. The plans supplement a company's 401-(k) program.

The ESOP holds the shares and employees are assigned a value for the stock allocated to them. In the Wood-Mizer case, stock allocations were based on salary.

Employees financed the initial, 53.9-percent stake with $6 million from their 401-(k) and a $10.2 million loan from Laskowski and Tekulve at a 6-percent interest rate. The co-founders directed most of the proceeds to foundations they started, Laskowski Family Foundation and Tekulve's Blessed Virgin Mary Foundation.

The latest acquisition was financed primarily by a 12-year loan at a 10-percent interest rate from the selling shareholders, Jeff Laskowski said. A bank loan funded the balance.
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