SuiteAmerica Celebrates 25 Years of ESOP

Employee-owned SuiteAmerica passes major milestone.

El Dorado Hills, CA, April 20, 2015 –(– SuiteAmerica employees who go out of their way to please guests are recognized in a company-wide newsletter – like at many companies. But that isn’t the only incentive for employees at the El Dorado Hills-based company, which provides temporary housing for corporate employees. SuiteAmerica is owned in part by its employees, who benefit directly from the company’s success.

“Knowing I’m a part owner makes me work even harder,” distribution supervisor Esmeralda Avalos said through an interpreter. Avalos, who works at SuiteAmerica’s Hayward facility, makes sure that the suites or apartments are stocked with everything guests might need. Guests typically are employees who are moving or on temporary assignment. Clients include major corporations, government agencies and even performing arts groups such as circus troupes.

SuiteAmerica offers housing around the nation, using vendors and partners in many states. Its employees run locations in SuiteAmerica’s core markets, which include Sacramento and the Bay Area; San Diego; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; and the Washington, DC. region.

Avalos has worked for SuiteAmerica for 20 years, starting as a housekeeper. She appreciates the training the company has provided so that she could move up through the ranks. And she’s happy that she is building a nest egg for her children through the company’s employee stock.

SuiteAmerica founders Robin and Jim Masten – president and CEO, respectively – decided on employee ownership in 2006 as a succession strategy. They didn’t like the idea of selling when they retire, a move that might result in workers losing their jobs. They went with an ESOP, in which workers are awarded shares based on their pay and length of service. The employees receive cash for the stock when they leave the company.

SuiteAmerica is 49 percent employee owned; the Mastens are planning for 100 percent employee ownership by the time they retire. They haven’t set a retirement date yet. According to the nonprofit National Center for Employee Ownership, the total number of ESOPs declined from 2002 to 2012, dropping from 8,874 to 6,908. But the number of active employee participants has increased, from 7.9 million to 10 million in the same period.

SuiteAmerica president Robin Masten said she hasn’t noticed a change in employee performance since starting the ESOP. “Our employees have always been very caring, hard-working and dedicated to contributing to the company’s success,” Masten said. “The ESOP has been a great way to reward them for that commitment and allow them to share in the company’s success.”

SuiteAmerica’s ESOP program gives “units” to employees, which are then used to calculate stock allocations. Employees receive one unit for each $10,000 in pay and 10 units for each year worked, giving relatively heavy weight to length of employment.

Suite service manager Michelle Rubalcava said she especially appreciates that SuiteAmerica gives the stock to employees. That’s typical for an ESOP. In contrast, other forms of employee ownership such as stock options and stock purchase plans usually require workers to buy the stock. The ESOP is in addition to SuiteAmerica employees’ 401(k) accounts.

Rubalcava, who’s been with SuiteAmerica for 22 years, said the ESOP is just one way SuiteAmerica treats workers well. She said she’d still want to work there even without the ESOP. “They’re always thinking about us,” Rubalcava said. “That’s why we have so many veterans here.”

The Mastens founded SuiteAmerica in 1990. The two met while working together at a company that supplied furniture to corporate housing companies. They decided to start their own corporate housing business, later becoming a couple and getting married. SuiteAmerica has 150 employees across the U.S.; 55 work in El Dorado Hills. It has acquired three other corporate housing companies since it was founded.

Robin Masten declined to give sales figures, but said revenue has grown at a compound annual rate of 10.5 percent over the past five years. The Mastens attribute SuiteAmerica’s longevity and success to a heavy emphasis on customer satisfaction. The company looks for what it calls “wow stories” examples of employees taking extra steps to help a guest.

For example, when a guest asked a SuiteAmerica employee to swap a standard DVD player in the room for a Blu-ray player to watch newly acquired Downton Abbey discs, the employee provided not just the Blu-ray player but also an assortment of Downton Abbey teas.

In another case, a SuiteAmerica employee surprised guests checking in with sick kids with a basket of children’s movies and a get-well card. Guests are more sophisticated today than when the business started 25 years ago, Masten said.

Whereas a guest in the 1990s wouldn’t have expected anything more than a furnished room, guests today look for flat-screen TVs and fitness equipment. “People want what they have at home,” Masten said.

Excerpted from Sacramento Business Journal.
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Terrie Carrozzella