The Power of Sensitive Succession Planning – Takeaways from our Scottish EO Exchange 

This week, a cross section of Scotland’s employee owned sector came together in Edinburgh for our EO Exchange based around succession planning – sharing insights and experience amid news that Scottish EO businesses are skyrocketing. 

Image: Scenes from our EO Exchange at Scottish Enterprise's Edinburgh HQ

Scottish Enterprise’s HQ provided a perfect venue to showcase new research revealing the growing power of Scotland’s EO sector.  

Research commissioned by Co-operative Development Scotland shows that employee ownership in Scotland has grown 47% since 2022. 

The country now boasts 286 employee owned businesses (EOBs) and counting. And Scottish Enterprise is on track to hit its target of 500 EOBs by 2030. 

It’s insights on practices like these that underpin the EO Framework - a blueprint for Great EO. Because it’s not a linear journey and starting with a planned approach can make it easier to evolve your practices and drive success. 

The findings also formed the backbone of a brilliant EO Exchange that sparked plenty of knowledge sharing, insights, and questions. Read on to discover more! 

The Power of Succession Planning 

The event was based around the theme of succession planning in EOBs and featured contributions from Martina Hofner (Esteem Training), Vicki Anderson (ALTAR Group), Niall MacDonald (Mediascape), and Susannah Eccles (Rubric). 

Regardless of whether it’s a two, three, or even a ten-year succession plan, the panel all agreed it’s critical to have a plan in place and start planning early. It’s also fine if you don’t always get things right.  

In fact, it’s likely you’ll get things wrong, but that’s why it’s key to adapt, react, and evolve, maintain open communication, and ask plenty of questions of your peers. 

Why Move to EO? 

When asked by our CEO James de le Vingne why they become employee owned, the panel agreed that it’s about preserving the legacy of the business, keeping the culture alive, and looking after the people. 

For ALTAR Group, it came down to cost. They couldn’t afford to keep buying shareholders out, so the move to EO made financial sense. But it also ensured the Group could protect and maintain its culture and people. Talk about a win win! 

Martina from Esteem Training said the company’s plan has long been EO. They even looked at transition years ago. But, at the time, a lack of staff and not having the right management in place meant EO wasn’t the right option. But, when exploring succession options a decade later, it made complete sense. 

“Putting people first drives the culture. Employee ownership shouldn’t hang on one or two people, but on everyone,” she said. 

“We told staff about our intention to transition well ahead of time. They were all given plenty of opportunities to ask questions of me, the other senior leaders, and even the advisors we were using.” 

This taps into one of the key themes of the event – it’s all about people. Becky from ALTAR Group stressed that people and culture are everything, while Vicki, the Group’s Director of Finance and Operations, had a bit of a rude awakening. 

“I expected everyone to be engaged in being employee owned on day one and thought it would be a lightbulb moment when they realised they were all co-owners, but it wasn’t.” 

It was a learning curve that saw the Group doing tangible things – like putting ‘co-owner’ in all employees email signatures – to help embed EO.  

Sharing what she’s learnt, Vicky said it takes two years to get the basis right, and five to get people fully engaged. Likely it won’t be until your business is financially free for people to truly get it. 

When it comes to individual employees, Martina stressed that you don’t want to focus on negative people. Instead elevate those who are passionate about EO.  

“They’re you’re rising stars,” she said. 

Be Sensitive to Founders 

Maintaining the founder's involvement is crucial. Vicki highlights the importance of the founder retaining a role within the business. In ALTAR Group’s case, that’s meant adopting a mentoring position, enabling them to share their experience and knowledge whilst gradually stepping back. 

However, founders often face challenges in letting go and may disagree with new decisions and directions. Understanding their perspective and ensuring they feel valued within the company structure is essential.  

Recognising and respecting the outgoing founder during this process is crucial for a seamless transition. By focusing on communication, collaboration, and sensitivity, businesses can honour the founder's legacy whilst empowering the next generation of leaders. 

Keep the Conversation Going 

Whether it was the Scottish Enterprise research, the panel discussion, breakout sessions, or networking, plenty of conversations followed the event. 

You can join in on the conversation on socials and over on the eo Hub.  

Keep an eye on our events page for more upcoming events. You can also boost your EO skills and understanding with one of our exclusive eo Learn courses. 

Share your insights and good news stories directly to our thriving community in the eo Hub. If you’re not already signed up, create a profile today and join thousands of others in our exclusive online member area. 

For anything related to stories, please email Dominic

For media enquires, contact Keely

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