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This Illinois company was just sold for $ 3 billion, but hundreds of employees are getting a cut. Some will get $ 800,000. – Chicago Tribune

When private equity firm KKR announced the $ 3 billion sale Monday of CHI Overhead Doors to steel company Nucor, it created a surprise for hundreds of hourly workers at the small Arthur, Illinois facility, which will receive between $ 20,000 and $ 800,000 each when the transaction ends.

The agreement represents a huge return on investment for KKR, which bought the garage door manufacturer for $ 600 million in 2015. For employees, who received equity in the company at no cost, the sale is potentially life-changing.

“I had no idea it was going to be such a big deal,” said Rhonda Jamison, 60, office manager at CHI Overhead Doors.

Jamison, a 17-year veteran of the garage door firm, learned of the sale and her six-figure payout at a meeting with all employees last week. Payments vary based on seniority and salary, with some long-term hired truck drivers – the highest paid hourly workers – taking home upwards of $ 800,000 from sales.

More than 630 hourly workers and truck drivers will receive an average of $ 180,000 through sales, the company said.

Located in Arthur, a village of about 2,100 inhabitants south of Champaign, the 41-year-old company makes garage doors for commercial and residential use. When KKR bought the company in 2015, it allowed all 800 workers – including salaried employees – to participate in the share ownership plan as a free benefit.

Employees who earned more than $ 100,000 per year were also allowed to invest their own money in the share plan.

The program has been rolled out by New York-based KKR at 25 companies in the portfolio since 2011. The garage door manufacturer, which generated KKR’s highest return on investment in more than 30 years, proved the value of the share plan for both ownership and employees.

“We do it because it’s obviously good for the workers,” said Pete Stavros, 47, co-director of private equity at KKR and chairman of CHI Overhead Doors. “And it turns out that it is also smart business. It leads to a more committed, stable, financially robust, less likely to quit the workforce, which gives better results for companies and investors.”

Stavros, a native of Arlington Heights whose father was a trade unionist at a Chicago construction company, developed the model to provide hourly equity employees at no cost. In addition to a stake were employees allocated $ 1 million per year to improve the factory, invest in everything from air conditioning to new break rooms and a cafeteria.

Productivity flourished, Stavros said, with sales growing by 120% and earnings margins increasing from 21% to 35% under KKR’s ownership of CHI

Last month, Stavros helped launch a non-profit organization, Ownership Works, to help spread the ownership model for employees in several companies.

CHI Overhead Doors was founded in 1981 and is the largest employer in Arthur, located about three hours south of Chicago. The manufacturer, which has had four private equity owners during the new millennium, plans to continue its operations at the same location under the new owner, Nucor, a North Carolina-based steelmaker.

The sale, which is expected to close in June, pending regulatory approval, will generate more than $ 360 million in payments for 800 employees. Hourly employees will receive around $ 114 million of the revenue, while salaried employees will receive around $ 250 million, the company said.

When Stavros announced the deal in front of around 400 employees last Wednesday, with potential payouts projected on a big screen, Jamison and her staff were overwhelmed by the news.

“The whole crowd went crazy,” Jamison said. ‘Adult men cried. I almost fainted. “

Jamison, who lives in nearby Atwood, will receive “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the sale. She plans to repay the mortgage and more loans, and use some of the proceeds from the sale to help a grandchild with special needs.

However, she does not intend to quit her job immediately.

“There’s no reason for me to leave,” Jamison said. “I will stay as long as they want me.”

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