Like W.W. Norton did 50 years ago, Human Kinetics, the Champaign, Ill., publisher of sports instructional and physical fitness books, videos and software, is laying the groundwork to become an employee-owned company. Rainer Martens, who founded the house with his wife, Julia, in 1974, said he decided to sell the company to HK's employees rather than to a third party because he believes it's the best way to preserve the company's identity. "We realized we would lose the uniqueness of the company if we went public or sold it [to an outside company]," Martens said.

The sale process is expected to begin before the end of HK's fiscal year on April 30. Under the employee stock ownership plan developed by HK and the Martenses, the ESOP will be funded by loans from the founders. The transfer of ownership to the ESOP is expected to take five to 10 years. HK, which had sales of $30 million in fiscal 2004, has 311 employees, 280 of whom live in the U.S. and will be eligible to participate.

Rainer Martens will remain involved with HK as president, while Brian Holding will continue as company CEO.