Hall of Fame - Jackie Salmon


Jackie Salmon is one of the 2023 ESOP Hall of Fame Inductees. We are grateful for her contributions to the practice of ESOP advising and the ESOP community as a whole.

Question: Please give us a brief overview of your career.

I began my career in the retirement industry in 1981 by answering an ad for a “statistical analyst” (SA) to work with pension actuaries. The main requirement was to be strong in math. I had gotten my degree in secondary education with a math major from Indiana University and had just taught high school math for two years but I was job hunting thinking it was not the career for me. After getting the job as SA, I realized I could be the actuary so I began that journey and within 5 years got my ASA (associate of the society of actuaries). Then at ten year mark, doing my own case load of actuarial valuations for DB plans, I was working at a pension consulting firm called McCready and Keene (MCAK) based in Indianapolis. In 1990, I had to resign my job to move to Orlando with my husband Steve for his job so I got a job there working in the 401k and profit sharing administration space. Steve got hurt at his job so we moved back to Indy after a year and I asked MCAK if I could come back and work there. They readily agreed to hire me for 2 new ventures, but they had nothing to do with DB plans.

The first new venture was they acquired and gave me the first PC to use at the firm (they used a mainframe at the time) for which they bought software to run a repurchase liability study for a large bank ESOP. This was my first exposure to the ESOP market where MCAK had been doing administration since the 1970s. I was to learn to use the PC and the software, know how the liability was calculated and provide the study.

The second new venture was to go offsite with two other colleagues to be trained on a massive and complex software they were buying to start a new department of daily recordkeeping for 401k plans, again all PC driven. (who knew at the time how big this would become!)

So, I came back to MCAK in 1991 and learned all about ESOP administration and RL studies and spent the next 5 years doing DC administration for ESOPs and 401k plans.

In 1996, I asked to be considered for a Lead Consulting role in the firm because a gentleman was retiring after 32 years, and it was some big shoes to fill. I won the job even though it would mean travel, sales, consulting on all types of retirement plans and even leading the entire consulting department. It eventually led to a board of directors post for me as I stepped into this sales/consulting role and was very successful at it. I ended up with a book of over 100 clients of all types, including about 35 ESOP clients.

In 2010 MCAK was acquired by OneAmerica and I spent 2010-2022 as their ESOP national practice leader. On 9/30/22 I retired from OneAmerica and started my own firm called ESOP Concierge LLC to be an ESOP consultant to ESOP companies, especially the new ones who need help navigating the new concept. I am also on several boards for ESOP companies.

It has been a terrific career.

Question: Any awards/honors have you received as a result of your work in ESOPS?

Only the honor of having numerous CEOs, CFOs, owners, and other executives tell me how much they appreciate my trustworthiness, responsiveness, and problem-solving skills. They gave me such pleasure to help them navigate their ESOPs, which is why I am now doing that exclusively.

Question: What individuals have most helped and/or influenced your career?

My first boss in the retirement industry, an actuary himself, Tom Milton, really helped encourage me to become an actuary and that was such a great learning experience.

Later on, after leaving my DB actuarial work and MCAK, then returning, it gave me a great chance to work with a wider variety of colleagues and learn more than DB, including learning ESOPs and 401ks which ended up broadening my scope of knowledge in the business. A few of my ESOP colleagues Joe Duncan and Tom Mills were exceptionally helpful to me as we grew the business and navigated many complex ESOP administrative issues as a team.

Finally I want to call out another person in the administration field I would talk to and ask questions even though he worked at a competitor. His name is Pete Shuler. He used to be with Crowe (they were sold to Blue Ridge). When you get into the deepest details of recordkeeping ESOPs, there are many gray areas. Pete was someone I would reach out to when we were in an internal discussion about the best pathway/option to use and he could be counted on to give an opinion. This was extremely helpful and so nice of him because after all, we were supposed to be competitors. We both had great trust and respect for each other and I personally tried to model that my entire career.

Question: Could you share a story or two about your friendship with them?

One client had an issue that their employee count and payroll had reduced so low that they couldn't make their ESOP loan payment without exceeding their "25%" Section 404 limit.

So, Tom Mills came by my office and we put our heads together and he was saying something (he was quite a rambler so I would sometimes just let him prattle- Tom if you read this forgive me) and all of a sudden a light bulb came on because of something he said. I realized that level payments for an inside ESOP loan means the same release of shares, no matter the interest rate so what could hurt to reamortize the inside loan with lower interest to reduce the payment but keep the share release the same. BOOM. It worked, was accepted by them and their trustee and they were back in business without this issue.

That was such a great team effort, and it was how we did things back then.

Additionally, Joe Duncan was a wizard at Excel spreadsheets, and I was always inspired and could count on him to develop the tools we needed to run a successful ESOP administration business. It was a great collaboration to have him create them and I would check them. Really can’t explain how amazing he was at them. Now I use them for things like golf and church, and people roll their eyes. Hey, I love Excel! Thanks Joe Duncan!

Question: Have any of your ESOPS been unique or different?



Question: How has the ESOP advisor community changed since then?

Certainly we see a pattern of large redemptions followed by 100% S corp ESOPs as the trend. But as an administrative expert, it is all about getting the allocations and statements right and being sure testing is in positive territory.

Question: Do you have any thoughts about the future of ESOPS?

I love the impact ESOPs have on "rank and file" employees and how it preserves culture. However, the administration is complex and the number of good recordkeepers continues to dwindle.

There doesn’t seem to be many advisors like me, an ESOP Concierge, helping the "C-Suite" navigate the ESOP after they do the transaction. There needs to be a role like this so that is why I am developing it. The downside is the large number of advisors involved in an ESOP, so I’m adding one, but it is one to help herd all of us into a cohesive team. If the executives think the ESOP is too complex to manage after they do it, then they will get rid of it, which is sad. So, I think finding a way to streamline the ESOP for a company is my main goal.

Question: What makes for a successful ESOP, as a result you enjoy working with them? 

What makes an ESOP successful is when everyone from the top-down work in concert to understand the ESOP and work together to make things efficient and effective. If greed or mistrust enter into the picture, then things get ugly. I like clients who understand that the administration is one of the hardest components of the ESOP and errors do occur. So, you accept them like a bad golf shot and move on to fix the problem and try to avoid it in the future.

I love telling employees at a rollout they now are an employee owner and what that means. 

One time an employee raised his hand after the presentation and asked "Now that I’m an owner, how do I go about making changes around here."

He was dead serious. 

We all had to hide our internal chuckles and explain the corporate governance doesn’t change, that the company is run by the board. There are still executives and managers, and their day-to-day job doesn’t change. But it is an opportunity to explain how ESOPs ARE different and the culture becomes even more teamwork focused. We have a lot of stats about how ESOPs do better than non-ESOPs in down times and things like that.