CEO, James de le Vingne opens the 2023 EOA Conference at the ACC in Liverpool

Hello everyone and welcome, It’s wonderful to be back in Liverpool, and a thrill to have convened the UK largest gathering of minds and voices that resonate with the spirit of progress, excellence and transformation powered, by employee ownership.

We all understand that employee ownership is not just a different way of doing business; it’s a better way. At the EOA, we take immense pride in leading the EO community towards a better working world.

And I am confident you would agree that pride is something that binds us all, connecting every employee owned business. It’s a universal pride, born from the ambition and the drive to do things differently, and through this, pioneering new ways of delivering better business outcomes and impacts. 

Many of you know, and have hopefully experienced, the value of connecting with your EO peers.  These connections are central to our work at the EOA.  This conference, our networking events and the EO Hub create the space for you to find and foster long lasting relationships with like-minded people and businesses. 

Together we are going further; advancing our thinking, gathering new perspectives and fast-tracking the activation of great EO.

The EOA has been proud champions of the EO community for over 40 years. We have a unique insight and experience of the sector and we deeply understand the opportunity of employee ownership for UK business.

With our diverse and growing network of over 700 businesses, our knowledge and insights mean we are perfectly placed to provide a strong, connected voice for great EO.

Our recent engagement with policymakers, business leaders and thought leaders is fueling informed and progressive discussions regarding ownership across the UK economy; together, we’re helping to shape business as a force for good … for people, places and planet.

Underpinning these conversations is the evidence we’ve gathered from you in the EO Knowledge Programme, our landmark piece of research that establishes a new baseline in our understanding of the scale and impact of employee and worker ownership in the UK.

The research findings are remarkable – they reveal a quiet revolution in responsible and sustainable productivity that deserves to be in the spotlight at a time when the UK is crying out for a better kind of economic growth.

The evidence proves that our small section of the UK economy is punching above its weight across multiple dimensions of impact on individuals, businesses, communities and the wider economy.

Where else can policymakers find businesses that empower employees to be 8-12% more productive or a sector that is making more money and adding more value to the economy through higher levels of investment in improving products and services, as well as creating more jobs.

Where else can they find jobs that benefit from greater investment in supporting employee health and wellbeing, on-the-job training and critical benefits like flexible and remote working.

Where else will they find businesses that pay higher minimum annual wages and collectively pay out twice as much in bonuses and dividends, whilst being five times less likely to make people redundant.

EOBs are driving a fundamentally fairer economy, sharing a stake and a say at work with groups typically under-represented in business ownership, while also being twice as likely to have diversity and inclusion policies in place.

Beyond creating and protecting jobs and putting more cash in the hands of workers, EOBs do significantly more to contribute to stronger local communities – by giving more of their time, skills and funds to local causes. 

And equally important is the commitment to our wider environment, with EOBs making stronger commitments to net zero and more likely to hold environmental sustainability accreditations.

In short, yours are good businesses providing good work; and whilst EO currently makes up a small proportion of the UK economy (just 0.1% by total numbers), we currently drive over 2% of overall economic activity.

Clearly, there’s significant value for all if we can continue to grow the EO sector. 

In recent weeks we have supported the launch of new research and evidence regarding the number of businesses that are likely to sell to employee ownership, and what a successful transition entails. 

We now know that more than two-thirds of SMEs with owners over the age of 43 intend to sell or divest their shareholding in the next 10 years – that affects shareholdings in 120,000 firms.

50,000 of these predict the business will need to find completely new owners or face closure.

30,000 predict liquidation as the likely eventual outcome.

Worryingly, only one-third of these business owners feel quite prepared, while another third is not prepared at all.

This potential loss of businesses poses a significant risk to the stability of people’s working lives and their local economies; however, this generational shift of ownership also represents a window of opportunity.    

We need national and local policy backed by the education we have honed as a sector and to use these insights to seize this opportunity and target these businesses, many of which consider selling to employees an attractive solution.

This would go a long way in sustaining the current rate of growth in the sector so that in 5 years’ time one in ten business owners selling their stake, will result in those shares being held by employees.

In addition to succession, a rising number of businesses are transitioning to EO as part of successful and ambitious growth strategies. 

Combined, these pathways represent a fantastic opportunity to accelerate the growth in employee ownership and secure people powered growth as a fundamental building block of a truly responsible, sustainable economy.

By bringing this wealth of data together, the EOA has unique insights and, through our membership network, an in-depth understanding of EO in action.

We have evidenced the key qualities and decision making needed to take good business and evolve them into great EO businesses.

And now, following the investment we’ve made together over the past 12 months, we have a richer, more nuanced understanding of how members are achieving Great EO. 

Next year, the EOA will be introducing a new framework for Great EO. 

Rooted in this new evidence, the EO Framework outlines how the choices of senior decision makers can power greater commercial, social and environmental impacts in their businesses.  

The EO Framework will underpin the future support and guidance we offer our members as they pursue their journey to Great EO. It will provide insight on key actions and practices employee-owned businesses identify as being most effective to support the impact of employee ownership.

It will share how leaders manage the journey to EO, how they define a model that works for them. What great governance and communications looks like. How leaders behave, how they engage with their people and what they value.

Through this initiative we will move beyond just growing the size of the EO sector, together through the EO Framework, we will be increasing the sector’s impact.

At the EOA, we recognise that the remarkable productivity, social responsibility, and environmental sustainability exhibited in your businesses are far more than statistics; they are testaments to your commitment to one another and a new way of conducting business.

As champions of progress and pioneers in fostering fairer economies, we know that you are proud of your businesses and want to communicate this beyond your incredible factories, care homes, adventure parks and offices. 

Today, I am excited to share that we are taking a significant step forward, not only for the EOA but for our entire sector. 

Today we launch the Proudly Employee Owned badge – a unifying symbol and powerful identity that encapsulates our shared commitment to excellence, sustainability, and people-powered growth.Our goal is that the Proudly Employee Owned badge is used universally across the EO community, representing our collective dedication to a brighter, more equitable future.

Collectively, this simple but powerful and shared visual identity can be a declaration of our commitment to shaping a world where businesses thrive, employees prosper, and communities flourish. 

Let us embrace this symbol, not just as a representation of our businesses but as a rallying cry for a shift towards a more sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous tomorrow.

Learn more about this years EOA Conference at the ACC here.