40 years of better business – a year of opportunity

As is usual at the start of a year, I write to offer some insights into the opportunities and challenges that 2019 poses for the employee owned sector.

Undoubtedly this year will be one of the UK’s most important in recent history and with the expected exit from the EU in March, possibly also one of its most transformative.

To that end, I believe that this could also be one of the most important years for employee ownership, which as a social and economic enabler can offer a more sustainable and inclusive way to do business.

One of the biggest opportunities for the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) is its 40th anniversary. Originally called Job Ownership Limited, Robert Oakeshott founded the EOA in 1979 in the belief that there was a better way of running a business, where ownership and influence are shared with all employees.

If Robert were still alive today, I wonder how satisfied he would be with the progress we have made to establish employee ownership in the mainstream and how we are rising to the challenge of the current economic situation?

As we kick off 2019, the EOA’s current Board and team share Robert’s vision of a better way to do business. However, in contrast to Robert, who started out with his passionate belief and the support of a few friends, in 2019 the EOA has created an increasingly supportive environment for employee ownership to grow and prosper; compelling evidence of the positive impact of employee ownership in the Ownership Dividend; a growing community of employee owned businesses; a national awards programme to shine a light on best practice; a growing community of EOA members; and public recognition of the relevance of employee ownership to the economy and wider society.

And in addition to the EOA website, our partners and friends in other parts of the economy also continue to develop the employee ownership ‘ecosystem’ with more evidence, support and information than ever before available for those wishing to learn more.

So I think Robert would be pleased with our progress so far, although based on what others have told me, I am sure he would be pushing us to achieve more. As I look ahead therefore to both what the EOA might wish to see in its 40th birthday wish list for 2019, and at the current economic and political turmoil, I can reveal the priorities that the EOA will be pushing forwards to pursue our target of 3m employee owners by 2030:

  • Encourage or enable another fifty businesses to successfully transition to employee ownership, spreading ownership and influence amongst all of their employees;
  • Gain agreement from at least one UK regional economic area to pilot a business succession and employee ownership programme, offering advice and support to businesses as part of demonstrating the contribution to regional resilience and productivity;
  • Achieve positive recognition of employee ownership from the Government in the form of financial support in its next Comprehensive Spending Review and in the annual Budget Statement;
  • Achieve commitment from the Opposition and other political parties to deliver policy to drive more employee ownership into the heart of the economy in a future Government;
  • Deliver innovative thinking about how employee ownership can play a role in the delivery of national or regional public services, as part of a more resilient economy and better public procurement;
  • Agreement with other membership bodies to closer collaboration and a shared narrative to help achieve greater impact for the shared ownership economy that we each support.
  • Champion employee ownership’s recognition by business leaders, politicians, journalists and other influencers across the UK as a vital ingredient in a more resilient, inclusive and productive economy.

Since 2012, employee ownership has been establishing itself as part of a new breed of businesses that are changing the view of ‘capitalism’, demonstrating that doing business (and making profit) and doing good (and sharing influence and reward with all employees) are not mutually exclusive. In 2019 therefore, the EOA is ideally placed, not only to celebrate 40 years of better business, but to capitalise on a year which is likely to bring some of the biggest change ever to the UK, and in doing so to demonstrate how more employee ownership can deliver both an economic and social dividend to the UK.