CEO viewpoint moving employee ownership into the mainstream – a marathon not a sprint

When we set ourselves big ambitions, it is the planning at the outset that is most important. When I decided I might just be able to run a marathon, it was running for 30 mins without stopping that was my first significant achievement.  Before I knew it, I was running for 90 minutes, then 120 and then… 6 months later and after 4 hours 30 mins, I completed that first marathon.

I am now more convinced than ever that getting to a point when employee ownership is an every day occurrence will be a similar marathon feat, but that the early signs of us reaching those key milestones on our plan are now more evident.

So whilst we remain some way off our finish line, where every accountant, lawyer, corporate financier and funder is familiar, skilled and able to advise on employee ownership, progress along our own journey to mainstream employee ownership, as part of the Ownership Effect Inquiry is very positive and the evidence of success is growing.

At each verbal hearing, we have heard from firms or bank that have supported an owner to move to employee ownership and that in doing so, are now confidently seeking to support other clients in the same way. These individual small steps, when combined, will start to have a significant impact on the number of transitions we see each year into employee ownership.

Another lesson I learnt along the way of training for that first marathon was that I couldn’t do it on my own; when it was cold and dark and the last thing I wanted to do was go out for a training run, I needed encouragement and a helping hand.

In much the same way, the Employee Ownership Association and its members can’t complete our journey to mainstream employee ownership on its own; we need the understanding, support and involvement of key organisations and groups who support business owners and founders especially at the point of succession management; we need politicians of every persuasion to appreciate the economic value of employee ownership and its future potential for the UK’s Industrial Strategy and as part of Corporate Governance Reform; and we need regional economies to be aware of the opportunity employee ownership offers to root jobs in a locality, create more wealth and support key supply chains.

So I am delighted that the Ownership Effect Inquiry has the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a group of over 20 of the most important professional bodies and the devolved economies of Scotland and Wales as its supporters.  Together, their reach, advocacy and support will help to spread the word about employee ownership in a way that no one organisation can.

And of course the marathon journey also needs some high profile advocates to encourage others to get involved. For those of you my age, it was the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Sally Gunnell who inspired a generation of would-be athletes to hit the streets.  In the world of employee ownership it’s the biggest employee owned businesses that business owners often look to for inspiration.  And the 2017 UK Top 50 Employee Owned Businesses couldn’t offer a better set of role models; with combined sales of £22.7bn, a 10.1% median increase in operating profits and productivity recorded at a 6.2% increase year-on-year compared to the latest UK productivity growth of 3.4%.

And finally, when your marathon journey is clearly related to others’, your motivation and confidence to achieve is increased. So I was delighted this month that two other important announcements were made; the publication of the Taylor Review and the launch of Be The Business. Both of these publications are key to the current policy landscape, helping to influence what the UK does to achieve good work that is more productive – two key topics that the ownership effect is also uncovering.

So whilst our challenge may be a marathon one – to move employee ownership into the business mainstream, we have our plan, we’re compiling the evidence and the tools, we have our supporters and role models and together, we’re now destined to get to the finish line.

Employee ownership is and will remain, a better way to do business.