EO Stories competition winners announced during Celebration Dinner at EOA Annual Conference 2022

Six winners were crowned as EO Stories award winners at the EOA Annual Conference 2022 Celebration Dinner.

The accolades highlighted best practice in ways in which businesses develop an effective employee ownership culture that leverages the benefits from employees having a stake and a say in the business.

The EO Stories 2022 competition celebrated the stories of employee-owned businesses and the impacts they are having on employees, the performance of the business, and on the economy and society.

The 28 insightful and inspiring stories submitted were put live for the public vote on EO Day, June 24, and thousands of votes were cast to establish a winner in each of the four categories – good leadership, good engagement, good governance or an outstanding EO culture.

Additionally, there were also two special prizes judged by EOA Trustee member and Celebration Dinner sponsors GLIDE and Gripple, and the President’s Pick award chosen by EOA President Patrick Lewis.

James de le Vingne, Chief Executive of the EOA, said: “The growth of the employee-owned sector in size and impact during such turbulent social and economic times highlights its relevance as a model for the future for the benefit of employees, business and communities.

“The impact of the sector is greatly strengthened by the stories people are willing to share, which aids the learning and development of businesses looking to activate their employee ownership.

“I’d like to congratulate not just the six winners, but all 28 entries on the exceptional insight they have provided into the key pillars of good employee ownership – good leadership, governance and engagement – which help to unlock the potential of future employee owners and businesses.”

EO Stories 2022 winners:

Delivering Good Engagement – DJS Research

Stockport-based DJS Research, which transitioned to employee ownership in July 2021 to mark its 20th birthday, showcased in its entry how its engagement activity is delivering opportunities across the business.

The market research agency highlighted how its communication has built understanding, and how the role of employee voice is helping set out its vision and inform its strategic planning, with an effective two-way engagement process making partners feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Chairman and founder Danny Sims said: “We are extremely proud and delighted to have won the employee engagement award from the EOA.

“Engaging staff in the employee ownership journey is a such a crucial part in building a successful employee-owned business. It’s over a year now since DJS Research transitioned from a family owned company to become employee owned.

“Prior to and after our transition we have undertaken various activities, including asking all of our partners to co-create our strategic plan for the next five years, generally educating about employee ownership and starting to introduce staff to the financial side of running a business.

“Winning this award is confirmation that we have started off well and provides further motivation to continue engaging with our partners to help us embrace all of the benefits that employee ownership has to offer. Many thanks to the EOA and everyone who voted for us!”

Watch here >> EO Stories 2022 – Delivering Good Engagement winner – YouTube

Delivering Good Governance – Riverford Organic Farmers

Devon-based Riverford Organic Farmers, which transitioned to employee ownership in July 2018, highlighted how its Trust Deed requires it governs itself through three interlocking governing bodies – its EOT trustees, its main board and its co-owner council.

In its EO Stories entry, the organic farm and UK-wide organic veg box delivery company showcased how the interplay between these bodies makes it stronger and protects it for the long term, while ensuring every co-owner’s voice is heard and its ethos is uppermost in all it does.

Charlotte Tickle, its Director of People, Finance and Change, said: “I am delighted that Riverford has won this award, on behalf of all our 997 co-owners. The fact that we’ve won for good governance is of real importance, as I firmly believe that the change in governance which comes with a move to employee ownership is key to its success as a model.

“Not only does employee ownership protect the business from falling into the wrong hands, or the wrong leadership; it also ensures that people are genuinely put at the heart of decision making.

“It gives real power to co-owners and creates a level of protection for those who care the most about a business’s future. This leads to a more successful business, which is good for everyone, as we all share in that success.”

Watch here >> EO Stories 2022 – Delivering Good Governance winner – YouTube

Delivering Good Leadership – Torchbox

Torchbox, which became employee owned in 2019 and has offices in Bristol and near Oxford, showcased in its EO story how, having been founder-led, it set out to become more sustainable for the future by finding ways to develop leaders across the company.

The digital agency transformed the way it works so employees can play a crucial role in its success – investing in training and leadership coaching to ensure the team leads and inspires each other.

These changes in leadership and culture helped make Torchbox more sustainable, with better communication, and with increased productivity, enabling it to double its profit margin and become financially free within three years.

Torchbox CEO James Leavesley said: “Winning this award for the Good Leadership category is the icing on the cake for a significant year for all of us at Torchbox, as we are celebrating becoming financially free two years early!

“Our business has fundamentally changed; not only in our constitution and funding but most importantly in our mindset. Each and every one of us are owners and our focus is on creating value for existing and future Torchbox employees.

“Like many agencies, we were very much founder-led, but over the last three years we’ve been channeling this owner mindset to develop our people into leaders and custodians of the business. It’s a massive credit to the whole team for pulling together and working so hard. I feel proud of all we have achieved and excited about what’s ahead.”

Watch here >> EO Stories 2022 – Delivering Good Leadership winner – YouTube

Outstanding EO Culture – Hayes Davidson

Hayes Davidson was founded in London in 1989 by the late Alan Davidson, pioneering the use of CGIs in the visualisation of architecture and the built environment.

The employee-owned company’s entry highlighted how its culture is built on five guiding principles that help everyone understand how information is shared, how decisions can be challenged and how the voice of the team can be represented. These five principles are knowledge of the strategy; ability to influence; visibility over decisions; right to develop; and right to information.

Neil Hughes, Joint Managing Partner, said: “We’re delighted to win the EO Stories award for Outstanding EO Culture. Our internal culture has been deliberately co-created from the outset: developed not just by the leadership team but by the whole studio.

“That means we have a ‘live’ culture – agile and able to respond and adapt more organically to new external or internal factors such as remote working or new regional and international opportunities.”

Jilian Bernstein, Studio Coordinator and HD Champion, added: “Our internal culture fosters equality and has given me the confidence to be a leader. I came here as one of the youngest members of the team but have always felt supported and that my opinions were valued.

“I have a voice within the studio and am able to initiate projects or take on things I am passionate about. I matter more than just my work output. In that way Hayes Davidson’s culture and ethos models great leadership. It’s about raising people up, not imposing a set of ideas.”

David Bullock, Joint Managing Partner at Hayes Davidson, said: “A collaborative and listening culture is essential to a creative business like ours. Our guiding values – trust, transparency, teamwork – are as good for clients as they are for our team.

“Increasingly, clients are interested not just in what we do, but how we do it, and how much emphasis we put on genuinely collaborative working partnerships. The creative outputs we develop with our clients are as varied as they, their stakeholders and their individual needs are.”

Mikaela Brigoli, Production Coordinator and HD Champion, says: “Our structure enables a healthy, free-flowing dialogue between and amongst teams, trustees and with the leadership team. There are no gatekeepers to the conversations that take place here.

“The agenda evolves out of what matters most to people, where their passions and interests lie. That studio consensus has driven some of the things we are most proud of – initiatives around well-being, flexible working and being able to give something back through our charity projects.”

Watch here >> EO Stories 2022 – Outstanding EO Culture winner – YouTube

Partner’s Pick – Rochdale Boroughwide Housing

The Partner’s Pick award was chosen out of all 28 entries by a panel of judges from our Celebration Dinner sponsors GLIDE and Gripple, who picked Rochdale Boroughwide Housing.

In its EO Stories entry in the good governance category, the UK’s first tenant and employee co-owned mutual housing society showcased how its model places tenants, employees and communities at the heart of its organisation.

Its Representative Body, made up of elected tenant and employee representatives, “sits at the apex of our governance, and means we get true bottom-up decision making”.

Chair of GLIDE Michael Hodgson, who also sits on the EOA Membership Council, said: “Rochdale Boroughwide Housing stood out to us for many reasons. We talk about EO being a force for good and this organisation is exactly that. It’s bringing people together in a meaningful way and in a sector where stakeholders don’t always get the support they deserve.

“Its governance has allowed for positive representation of voices which has delivered eye-catching and hugely important benefit at a time when it’s really needed.

“The words passion, focus, collaboration and pride struck a chord for us and are clearly central to this organisation’s fantastic success.”

Nicola Taylor, Head of People and Culture at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, said: “It was a great surprise to be a winner.

“It is a testament to us being part of a community and doing the best for that community as an employee and tenant owned business. It is great to see our unique model acknowledged in this way.”

Watch here >> EO Stories 2022 – Partner’s Pick winner – YouTube

President’s Pick – Alfa Leisureplex Group

Alfa Leisureplex Group, the UK coach holiday and hotel group which has been providing holidays for over 30 years, experienced a “phenomenal bounce back” after the pandemic hit the tourism industry hard – with its EO culture “integral to this success” as everybody pulled together to help it not only survive, but then achieve a record financial year and its highest ever employee engagement score.

In picking Alfa’s EO Story to win the special award, EOA President Patrick Lewis said: “The challenges it has faced have been existential, and what really stood out is the way it lent on employee ownership as being the root to finding the right answers.

“The emphasis everybody had on a shared future and working together, and the incredibly strong culture it has created is a fantastic example on what can be achieved by an employee-owned organisation.”

Emma Russell, Managing Director at Alfa Leisureplex Group, said: “Everyone will be delighted – we are speechless at winning this award. It has been a real team effort to get through such a difficult time for the industry.”

Watch here >> EO Stories 2022 – President’s Pick winner – YouTube

While six winners were crowned on the night, all 28 entries were inspirational stories that highlight the benefits of giving employees a stake and a say and how employee ownership can unlock the potential of people and businesses.

Read our EO Stories 2022 entries here >>

Winners’ stories

DJS Research – Our EO Story: How our engagement activity is delivering opportunities

Riverford Organic Farmers – Our EO Story: Interplay of governing bodies makes sure every co-owner heard

Torchbox – Our EO Story: Our road to financial freedom

Hayes Davidson – Our EO Story: Culture built on five EO guiding principles

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing – Our EO Story: Succeeding together – our mutual way

Alfa Leisureplex Group – Our EO Story: EO culture integral to our ‘phenomenal bounce back’