Mary Ann Beyster wanted to “capture stories from privately held companies that create wealth by sharing wealth” when she produced the film We the Owners: Employees Expanding the American Dream. Now the film, which follows three employee-owned businesses through their decisions about expansion, succession, recruitment, and layoffs, has captured critical audiences. We the Owners, screened for the MIT Club of San Diego last October, has won awards including Best Documentary Short at the 2013 California Independent Film Festival.
Beyster, who heads the Foundation for Enterprise Development (FED) in La Jolla, California, worked on We the Owners for three years. “These companies are led from the bottom, the top, and the middle,” she says. “They all care about the environment, their employees, and the community while being innovative and profitable.”
A San Diego native, Beyster earned her undergraduate degree in industrial and manufacturing engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She worked on production improvements in Hewlett-Packard’s ink-jet division before venturing east to Sloan. There, she leaned “how companies could be competitive by focusing on being better for the environment and being more responsible,” she says. “At MIT, I didn’t feel like I was being put into a box. There was an openness to explore my interests.”
After graduating, Beyster consulted at SRI International and CH2M Hill for 10 years before joining her father, J. Robert Beyster, at SAIC, the employee-owned research and engineering firm he founded. In 2005, she was appointed president of FED, a nonprofit organization also founded by the elder Beyster, which promotes a culture of employee-driven innovation and shared ownership at small science and technology companies.
“In the financial crisis, the companies with broad-based ownership laid off fewer people,” Beyster says. “They were innovative. There was cost sharing and deferred salaries, and they moved people around.” Having produced educational materials, she knew a film could best tell the story to students and business leaders. The film’s critical success, she says, is “unexpected and it’s sweet.”
Through FED, Beyster and her family have funded a multidisciplinary fellowship program for research on shared ownership and innovation at Rutgers University. An avid outdoorswoman, she likes to swim, bike, and hike. She serves on the board of the Nature Conservancy in California, the advisory board of the La Jolla Music Society, and Sloan’s North American Executive Board.