The bonuses, which vary by seniority and position (some got as much as a year's salary), left most workers "just plain incoherent," says McLaughlin, 58. "I almost started crying," says chemical compounder Mark Hamilton, 37, a 16-year Butcher veteran.
"The employees earned those checks," says Butcher, 84, who inherited the business in 1951 and grew it into a company with sales of $75 million last year. Besides, says the former owner, a father of seven children by two marriages who lives in Boulder, Colo., with his wife, Jane, 56, "I have more money than I need. I feel happy to give it away."
One by one the employees of the Butcher Company were summoned to a mysterious meeting at the company's Marlborough, Mass., headquarters. There, on Sept. 19, they got the word. Charlie Butcher, who had just sold the 120-year-old floor-polish manufacturer to the giant Johnson Wax Professional for an undisclosed sum, had a surprise for them: He was giving away $18 million—a portion of the sale—to all 325 of his workers, from CEO Paul McLaughlin down to receptionist Pat Pazzaneze.