11/06/2000 at 01:00 AM EST
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.
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."