EO optimism and insight create ‘beneficial’ experience for delegates at first face-to-face network meeting in over two years

‘Valuable’ insights were shared and discussed at the EOA’s first face-to-face network meeting in more than two years in London yesterday.

Hosted by Fieldfisher, one of our specialist advisers, at their offices on the banks of the Thames, the EOA South-East Regional Network Meeting was our first in-person event since a network meeting in Glasgow in March 2020 prior to the pandemic.

A room full of delegates listened to guest speakers and had the chance to network in smaller groups, with the event hearing that there’s “lots to be optimistic about among our incredible employee-owned community” and that the “sector seems well placed to springboard into the next decade”.

The network meeting started with an introduction speech from EOA Chief Executive James de le Vingne, pictured, who talked of the difficulties all businesses are facing at the moment in these “uncertain times”, while highlighting the fact “businesses are leaning into their EO and putting it front and centre to be resilient to tackle the challenges ahead”.

James, who joined the EOA as new CEO in February, spoke of the road trip of employee-owned businesses he has been on since joining and how there is “real pride” among members in being EO.

Emerging themes

The event then heard from Jennifer Martin, Senior Associate at host Fieldfisher, who detailed the help the law firm offers companies transitioning to employee ownership.

In her presentation, she highlighted the following emerging trends in the EO sector the firm has seen:

  • Increasing complexity of transactions
  • Increasing variety of transactions
  • Absence of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach
  • Increasing demand from clients for sophisticated tax structuring and design advice
  • Diversity of sectors
  • Resilience of its clients

Architect highlights how it embedded employee ownership

A case study presentation was then provided by Donald Insall Associates, an employee-owned firm of architects that employs 120 people across nine sites.

Robin Dhar, director at the firm, pictured, stressed the importance it places on “everyone having a voice” at Donald Insall and how it nurtures its EO culture to achieve this.

Lucy Barron, Donald Insall employee trustee, said having her role at a level that is not someone in management ensures the business can “hear voices that are not always necessarily heard” and added having her views taken seriously has left her feeling like “an ambassador” for the practice.

During a panel Q&A session with the four speakers that followed, Lucy stressed how it values “not measuring success through profits” but that things like staff retention, training qualifications, employee satisfaction and nurturing its wider culture were just as important.

‘Open space’ networking

The delegates were then split across four tables, pictured,  during ‘open space’ networking. Assael Architecture was represented by John Assael, who spoke from a founder’s perspective, and Cathy Jeremiah, who hosted a table on the role of the employee trustee.

Summer Rozenbroek and Emily Wolley, from Quiet Storm, led a table on the theme of employee wellbeing, while the team from RVE Corporate Finance spoke about how to structure employee ownership from a finance perspective.

The groups then all fed back learnings from the session to the whole room, before the meeting ended with informal networking and refreshments.

‘100% value’ in attending

After the event, guest speaker Robin from Donald Insall said: “It was great to have such an enthusiastic group of people come together sharing experiences and to share our experiences.

“It’s really helpful and important to share experiences because whatever we’re going through in life – business or personal – I think we can always feel somewhat isolated and that we’re on our own and thinking ‘how do we get through these problems’.

“But when you actually meet up with other people you find they’re going through exactly the same thing and hear what they did and it gives you not only hope, but a bit of advice and insight to move forward, so I always benefit from coming to these events.”

Summer and Emily from creative agency Quiet Storm also spoke to the EOA after the event, with Emily saying: “I thought the event was absolutely brilliant, really interesting and it was nice to see people face to face.

“Sometimes networking events can feel incredibly scary and people can be quite cold, but that was not the case and everyone was super friendly. I would thoroughly recommend anyone to attend a future EOA event like this as there were some interesting learnings from it.”

Summer added: “Everyone was really warm and it was a really engaging conversation, the speakers were brilliant and the ‘open space’ part of the day was a great way to get people chatting and having a fruitful discussion.

“No matter what your role is in your EO business, there was 100% value in coming because there were topics of discussion that were beneficial to everyone.”

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