Most of the media attention has been on the decline of defined benefit pension plans. That is, for large companies. Defined benefit plans are alive and well for small business owners. And in the same vein – but at a much faster pace – large publicly traded companies are terminating their ESOPs.
According to Corey Rosen, Executive Director of the National Center for Employee Ownership in his recent Employee Ownership Update, one third of the largest 900 companies that had ESOPs in 2004 (the Fortune 500 and the Russell 400) had reduced the stock held in the plan to zero or close to it by the end of 2005. Corey thinks that this a direct result of concerns about legal fallout from the Enron, WorldCom, RiteAid, and other "stock drop" lawsuits that began earlier in the decade.
But as with defined benefit pension plans, ESOPs are alive and well in privately held companies, particularly as an exit strategy for Baby Boomer business owners.