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Employee ownership – a better way of doing business

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

There is a quiet revolution happening in workplaces across the UK. Employee ownership – a business model that gives employees a direct stake and say – is on the rise. And I’m so delighted that Oliver & Co Solicitors is joining them, as we transfer 100% of the business to our employees through an Employee Ownership Trust.

Some of the highest profile employee owned businesses include John Lewis, home entertainment retailer Richer Sounds and the Bristol-based Oscar winning animation studio Aardman, which created hit movies including Wallace and Gromit. Vegetable box business Riverford Organics and leisure business Go Ape are also among the 1,000 – and growing – employee owned businesses in the UK.

On the face of it you may think that a law firm like ours has little in common with this diverse list of businesses. But we all share something crucial in common – we understand that the people that we work with all have a valuable contribution to make and deserve an equal stake and say in the business.

What is employee ownership?

Employee ownership means that a business is owned in whole or part by its employees. There are different models of employee ownership – direct, indirect or a combination – and at Oliver & Co we’ve opted for an Employee Ownership Trust, which is an indirect form of employee ownership.

There are often common triggers for employee ownership: expansion, at start-up stage or for retirement planning and succession. In our case, we felt it was the right option as we plan for the future. David Owen and I were co-owners and as we planned for the medium-term and our retirement at some stage in the future, we knew we wanted to secure the business and not risk everything we’ve worked hard to achieve with a trade sale. Employee ownership felt like the right fit for us. We’ve both been with Oliver & Co for over 20 years, and we will continue to be involved in the business, but when we do eventually retire, we know that Oliver & Co will be in the safest hands.

The benefits of employee ownership are felt by employees, the business and its customers, as well as the wider community.

Delivering benefits for employee owners

Employee ownership brings significant benefits for employees. There is a financial reward for employee owners as they can enjoy a share in the business’s profits. There is also much more job satisfaction knowing that you work somewhere that genuinely cares about your ideas and values the contribution that everyone makes to the business.

Employee owned businesses don’t just pay lip service to their employees’ views. Employees have a say at Board level through an Employee Ownership Trust.

EOA research shows that 90% of Employee Ownership Boards report that employees have some or a lot of say in decisions on working conditions. Employee owned businesses are also likely to be more transparent with 75% sharing financial information several times a year.

Growth, resilience and innovation

It is clear from businesses that have transitioned to employee ownership that the move stimulates growth, increases resilience and unlocks innovation. The EOA reports that employee-owned businesses are more innovative and resilient because of the new ideas that energised and engaged employees bring.

It also highlights that becoming employee owned helps businesses become more successful, competitive, profitable and sustainable.

Delivering better business

Research for the EOA shows that employee ownership is delivering better business, because it is giving employees a meaningful say. This is reflected in how socially responsible businesses are – 71% of employee owned businesses have a statement of purpose that includes making a positive contribution to society and the environment, and 96% say that looking after their workforce is a key measure of business success.

All in all, I would say that the future for Oliver & Co, and our team of employee owners is very bright!

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