Making The Case For Employee Ownership

The growing importance of employee ownership to the UK economy, and in particular to increasing rates of productivity, was the message of Sir Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of the John Lewis Partnership at last week’s annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture.

Organised by the Employee Ownership Association and hosted by the ICAEW, this annual commemoration of the life of the founder of the EOA, Robert Oakeshott, has become a key highlight in the calendar, this year attracting over 200 delegates including members of the Employee Ownership Association and business owners keen to learn more.

Drawing on the experience of leading the John Lewis Partnership, the UK’s largest employee owned business, Sir Charlie contrasted the current ‘feel good’ in the economy with the challenges of low pay and productivity, citing that the UK was ”job rich but pay poor”.

Sir Charlie cited his belief that employee owned businesses are well placed to counter this challenge through their desire to focus on the social purpose of work in order to drive greater productivity leading to higher pay. This focus means creating more ways for staff to engage in their business, to ensure that they are able to make a more meaningful contribution.

In particular, he commented, employee owned businesses are more likely to focus on returns to labour, as opposed to solely pursuing capital returns, thereby delivering what he said was ‘a fairer form of capitalism’.

His summary thoughts centred on the accountability that he feels towards the Partners in the John Lewis Partnership – with this accountability being a common trait of those businesses with some form of employee ownership.

The session ended with a lively question session where delegates listened to Sir Charlie’s views on a range of topics from capital investment, staff engagement and whether there is a need for a legal framework to support employee ownership.

Further networking and debate continued over lunch in the grand surrounds of the ICAEW at One Moorgate Place.