Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong took man’s first step on the moon, the Beatles recorded Abbey Road, Sesame Street premiered on PBS and a Lancaster County-based engineering and surveying firm opened its doors for business.
In 1969, J. C. Engineering/Surveying Inc., now known as RETTEW, was incorporated with a few surveyors and civil engineers. Five decades later, the firm has more than 350 employees in 11 offices and provides more than 600 services across the U.S. In January 2019, RETTEW announced an ownership transition to be 100 percent employee-owned via an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, beginning a new chapter for the firm.
The company was originally owned and run by John Cibula, a licensed professional engineer and surveyor. In 1973, George Rettew, Sr. bought the company from Cibula, and the firm remained family-owned for many years. The company began diversifying and adding new services in the 1970s, consistently expanding with new groups, technical expertise and service lines. Today, the firm’s list of disciplines includes civil, transportation, environmental, electrical and subsurface utility engineering, geophysics, land planning, surveying, safety consulting and design-build services.
As the business continued to add skills and grow relationships, it saturated the Lancaster County marketplace. Over time, the firm expanded to central Pennsylvania, then to the whole state, and today RETTEW completes projects across the entire U.S.
In 1976, George “Hank” Rettew, Jr., son of the owner, took over leadership of the business. And in 1987, the company officially changed its name to RETTEW to reflect the family ownership.
Over time, the ownership structure began to shift. While the Rettew family maintained a majority stake, company leaders recognized potential in many of its staff and began a program to groom owners in the firm. Following a designated time in the mentoring program, selected employees could buy into the firm as shareholders.
Hank Rettew led the firm for several decades, and in 2004 he was named chairman and CEO, while Mark Lauriello became president and COO. A few years later, in 2011, RETTEW began another ownership transition as Hank approached retirement.
That transition involved creating an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. In this structure, the Plan maintains shares in the company that are distributed to employees on an annual basis.
Leadership considered the ESOP as a way give employees an added benefit and a hand in setting their own future at the firm – their productivity and dedication directly affect RETTEW’s share value.
After the initial ESOP formation, RETTEW continued the ownership transition by increasing the ESOP to 30 percent of the company’s shares in 2014.
Following Hank Rettew’s retirement in 2015, company leadership began discussing how to fully transition the firm’s ownership. Several options were on the table, such as repurchasing Hank’s shares and retiring them, increasing the ESOP holdings or a combination of the two.
At the same time, RETTEW was undergoing a shift in its corporate culture, introducing more employee-centric programs and practices, revitalizing its core values and building a more cohesive internal atmosphere. In light of those changes, RETTEW leadership decided to transition Hank’s shares fully into the ESOP, creating a company that is 100 percent owned via the plan. Shares will continue to be distributed to employees over time, and with the new structure, more shares will be available and will grow in value over time. All other employee shareholders also transitioned their ownership shares into the ESOP, creating an equalized company ownership structure. RETTEW will realize financial benefits from the transaction as well, including the change from a C-Corporation to an S-Corporation, exempting it from federal and state taxes.
“One thing we kept in mind at all times,” Lauriello said,” is that during this ownership transition, we needed to constantly communicate and explain what was going on, what was happening when, and what it meant to our employees.”
This transaction and ownership change continues to position RETTEW for the future as the firm looks to expand into ever-evolving markets. One thing remains the same though, “RETTEW has great people. It’s our people that make the difference,” says Lauriello. The ESOP will continue to reinforce that mantra, guiding RETTEW’s practices and policies as the company continues to build its reputation as a national engineering and environmental consulting firm.
Throughout all the years of change, growth, improvements and expansions, the fundamentals at RETTEW have not changed. The core values of integrity, relationships, excellence, safety and stewardship remain the essence of the business, forging a culture of teamwork and reliability.
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