BONNIE & MAVIS: McGrath Amphitheatre in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, shown here in 2022 during the Bonnie Raitt/Mavis Staples concert, is among VenuWorks’ 44 facility management clients. (Don Muret/Staff)


Third-party management firm VenuWorks announced its new board of directors this week, an action that comes one year after the company officially started operating under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

Larry Perkins, recently retired and a longtime arena manager; Kim Mahoney, a consultant with Venulogix and lead author of a textbook the International Association of Venue Managers uses for educational purposes; strategic advisor Joel Duncan; and Joe Peters, a certified public accountant and son of VenueWorks founder and CEO Steve Peters, make up the board, which Steve Peters sits on as well.

Together, they’re responsible for steering the company through its new business structure, whether it’s employment contracts or acquisition opportunities. The board is required under the ESOP program, which is essentially a trust administered by the Department of Labor, Steve Peters said.

Steve Peters (Courtesy VenuWorks)

Officials with VenuWorks, headquartered in Ames, Iowa, developed the employee-owned company model as a succession plan as Peters heads toward retirement. He plans to work another three to four years and stay involved in producing live theater. Summer Stock the Musical, among VenuWorks Theatricals’ recent productions and based on the 1950 movie with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly set box office records during its eight-week run at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.

Under the ESOP model, VenuWorks’ 250 full-time employees are enrolled in the earnings program. It costs them nothing to participate and the ownership shares they collect over the years is separate from their 401K retirement plans, Peters said. There’s a note involved in which the ESOP buys the firm from Peters over the next eight years. Because the ESOP is classified as a trust and a nonprofit, there are no taxes paid by VenuWorks. Instead, the money that would typically used to pay taxes for the company goes to the seller.

“Our research showed that ESOP companies have a lot greater retention of staff, more employee engagement and increased sales,” Peters said. “It seemed like a good thing to do. If they work 10 years, even the most modest-paid individual would have $60,000 to $70,000 in their retirement account. It doesn’t affect their 401K or anything else.”

The Shubert Organization, which runs about 25 theaters across the country, has a similar employee stock plan, Peters said.

For VenuWorks, the investment plan ties back to Peters’ vision for the firm to remain an independent company, running buildings in secondary and tertiary markets. As it stands now, VenuWorks has deals in place with 20 markets, spanning 44 arenas, theaters and conference centers. Peters founded the company in 1996 as Compass Management Group before rebranding as VenuWorks in 2007.

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised.