How ‘flat management structure’ helps Quintessa ‘share control’ with its employee owners | EO Stories

EOA member firm Quintessa has highlighted how its flat management structure helps it “share control” and “delegate responsibility” to its employee owners.

The scientific, mathematical and strategic consultancy firm has spoken a year on from making its submission for the Employee Ownership Association’s EO Stories 2021 competition in the Delivering Good Governance and Engagement category.

Launched as part of activities in the run-up to EO Day, the EOA is again asking members to submit their stories in one of four categories where they have excelled, with these stories published on EO Day on June 24, after which voting starts.

One of those categories is ‘Delivering Good Governance’, which seeks to showcase how a company’s structures help bring employee ownership to life.

On the back of launching EO Stories 2022, the EOA caught up with Rebecca Newson, 27, an elected employee trustee director at Quintessa, to find out more about the ‘good governance’ that saw the firm shortlisted last year.

Quintessa, which has 28 employees across offices in Henley-on-Thames and Warrington, was founded by David Hodgkinson in 1999 with the aim of providing an enjoyable and fulfilling working environment in which talented scientists and mathematicians can use their problem-solving skills to help clients address key issues.

David had a firm belief that allowing employees to contribute to all aspects of Quintessa would allow better decisions to be made by drawing on their knowledge and experience. Therefore, from its inception, Quintessa has been an employee-owned company. For the first 15 years employees held shares directly in the company, but in July 2014 all shares in Quintessa were transferred to an employee ownership trust (EOT).

Senior Consultant Rebecca, who sits on the six-person EOT board, believes employee ownership gives Quintessa “freedom”.

“We’ve decided we’re happy with the size we are, we’re not planning actively to grow,” she said. “Our main driver is to do interesting work and as long as that is profitable enough for us to keep going then that’s the decision we’ve taken. We’ve had the freedom to take those decisions because we’re not beholden to external shareholders, we are the owners of the company.”

Governance structure means decisions ‘taken collectively’

As part of its submission to EO Stories 2021, Quintessa highlighted how “everyone is empowered to contribute to operational and strategic decisions”, adding: “While the company board has the ultimate responsibility for the running of the company, in practice it delegates a very significant fraction of its responsibilities to the employee owners.

“This means all decisions other than certain legal, financial, insurance and employment matters are taken as a collective via management meetings to which all permanent employees are invited.

“This model works for us because Quintessa remains a small company with a flat management structure, allowing everyone who wishes to do so to contribute effectively to discussions.”

Rebecca Newson from Quintessa

Rebecca, pictured, admits while there are times when it might seem inefficient having 28 people sat around a table making decisions, she believes having decisions “taken collectively” is beneficial.

“I think it really suits us,” she added. “There’s a lot of transparency, people feel consulted and can see the rationale behind decisions when they are made.

“The company board is really good about sharing control with the employee owners and delegating responsibility to employees to make decisions.

“We’ve had a year in the past where the company’s workload took a bit of a downturn, but we were all able to pull together to help us weather that period and come out busier than ever. A lot of that comes from having employee engagement and feeling that you do have an equal voice.”

Having the confidence to speak up

Rebecca says the trust board has “an overview” of how the business is being managed and decisions made and is there to “keep things in check”.

She has been an employee trustee director on Quintessa’s EOT for around a year and says attending the EOA’s trustee course helped build her confidence in the role, especially being a younger person sat on a board.

“Initially I thought I was too junior to be a director of anything, but people said it’s good to have elected reps from all levels, so I put myself forward,” she said.

“I was a little nervous about, for example, if it comes to a hard discussion with the managing director, do I have the confidence to do that.

“But I think confidence comes with learning more about your role and being able to talk to people who have had the role before, and so I found the EOA course really helpful.

“It gave me confidence on things where I was less certain like the financial and legal aspects and the confidence to speak up and ask questions.

“You’re elected to be there, so you do have the same right to voice your opinion as everybody else in the room when you’re in these meetings.”

Details on how to submit EO Stories entries this year can be found on the EO Stories 2022 page by clicking here >>

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