Imagine if instead of a handful of Waltons with billions of dollars apiece, Walmart's wealth were spread out among its shelf-stockers, cashiers, and other front-line employees. That's essentially the situation, albeit on a smaller scale, at Boise-based supermarket chain WinCo Foods. The founding family of WinCo — previously known as Waremart and Cub Foods — sold a majority stake to its employees in 1985, and that decision has made a number of longterm employees pretty wealthy, says Mary Josephs at Forbes.
WinCo now has 98 stores and about 15,000 employees, and has recently expanded from the West Coast into Utah and the Southwest. Josephs looks at the WinCo store in Corvallis, Oregon, whose 130 employees have a combined retirement savings of $100 million — some of the regular employees are millionaires, and "in a few years the average wealth of these employees could easily exceed $1 million," she notes — calling the store "a laboratory of capitalism worthy of pilgrimages by the world's great business schools."
The secret to WinCo's shared prosperity is its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which technically owns the company. You can read more about that setup, a 42-year-old front-line worker who could easily and comfortably retire, and some benefits of employee ownership at Forbes. And to get a sense of the stores, you can watch WinCo's promotional video below. There are lots of reasons WinCo isn't Walmart — it doesn't advertise, won't bag your food, and doesn't accept credit cards, for example — but the hundreds of millionaire employees is probably the most interesting. --Peter Weber