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“Becoming an employee-owned business has been a game-changer for our firm.”

Blog by Kay Cook, Director (and former owner) of Oliver & Co

What an exciting 18 months that has been, transitioning from business owner to an employee in a 100% employee-owned business.

On 18th October 2022, Oliver & Co became the first law firm in Chester and the largest in the Northwest to become 100% employee owned.

Where it all began

I joined Oliver & Co in 2001 as a young solicitor, at the time Oliver & Co was quite different to the firm it is today. Although the firm is unrecognisable from what it was then, the family feeling within the firm and the excellent reputation it has hasn’t changed and has become even stronger.

Being a female equity partner in a firm when I was only 5 years qualified was quite a steep learning curve, it has been challenging at times but also very rewarding. Fortunately, in the early years I had an excellent role model in Angela Oliver, who was the managing partner, she was a straight talking, no-nonsense, extremely hardworking lawyer and mother, a true inspiration to me and others in the firm.

For over 20 years I have been at the forefront of the business with my co-director and business partner David Owen, between us we have navigated the direction of travel of the firm. My only reservation in becoming employee-owned was whether I would find it difficult to let go of the reigns after so long.

The motivation for change

Both David and I were always very aware of the age-old issue of succession in law firms. We had built the firm up over the years but realised that the success of the firm was, in no small part, due to the incredible team that made up Oliver & Co from the most junior assistants to the most senior lawyers, what better way to thank then, than give them a stake in the business.

We had always admired the John Lewis model and having been introduced to the concept of employee ownership by Jane Gow, our financial advisor at Clear Cut Financial Planning, we researched the concept and realised that this was the perfect fit for the firm going forward.

The transition process

Transitioning from a business owner to an employee-owned business was more of a change in mind set rather than making significant changes to the business. Although it was business as usual as far as our clients were concerned, internal changes related to the ownership of the business and decision making within the firm. We restructured operations and the management team, but the greatest change was empowering everyone to think like business owners and have the confidence in themselves to influence others and the business.

Impact on the firm

Both David and I have been blown away by the positive impact becoming employee owned has had on the firm generally. Our colleagues are more motivated and engaged in the business, everyone has an increased desire for the firm to be as successful as possible. We have seen innovation and collaboration between departments, we have also seen improved staff retention and recruitment as employee ownership has made it a more attractive place to work in which everyone has a voice.

Our clients have also noticed positives changes as well. The increased morale and satisfaction of our team has translated into us giving the best service to our clients, leading to higher client satisfaction.

Looking to the future

Transition to an employee-owned business has certainly been a career highlight and the most fulfilling decision of my career. It has not only transformed the firm’s operations and culture, but it has also future proofed the business which will enable us to navigate the challenges of the future with resilience, innovation and shared success for the next generations to come.

Becoming an employee-owned business has been a game-changer for our firm, at the outset of this process, I kept asking myself ‘where is the downside’, I can genuinely say there has been no downside. To other businesses contemplating becoming employee owned a firm is nothing without its people, what better way to celebrate the hard work and commitment of your staff.

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