Robert Oakeshott Lecture provides ‘food for thought’ on employee ownership being a ‘powerful starting point’ to help redesign business

The 10th annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture, sponsored by Brabners, took place on 15 February at Bayes Business School in London, bringing together more than 140 attendees from across the EOA membership, as well as friends and relatives of the EOA’s late founder.

The EOA’s annual lecture commemorates and celebrates the life, legacy, and work of its founder, and employee ownership pioneer, Robert Oakeshott.

Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth delivering her lecture

Attendees at the lecture remarked that Kate Raworth’s guest lecture was “thought-provoking”, creating a “palpable sense of ‘wow’ throughout the room”.

Stephen Hadlow, Partner at law firm and EOA supporter member Brabners LLP, gave a brief introduction ahead of the lecture delivered by the “renegade economist” and co-founder of the Doughnut Economics Action Lab.

“This year’s event was a real success, held at a great venue, with an inspirational speaker. There was great feedback from the room,” said Stephen in his reflections on the event.

“It’s always a great opportunity to catch up with other advisers, EO businesses and the EOA team, and the talk from Kate was definitely food for thought.”

Lecture talks of ‘redesigning business’

Kate is an ecological economist focused on making economics fit for 21st-century realities, and her lecture was titled ‘Redesigning business with Doughnut Economics’.

Kate discussed redesigning business through the lens of planetary boundaries to unlock regenerative and distributive​ possibilities.

Speaking on Earth’s environmental crises and economic inequality, and about a “world perilously out of balance”, Kate commented that “we need new theories and new business models to turn this story around”.

She told the room that traditional economic practices are “degenerative and divisive”, but said to change the future, you need to change the dynamics and called for an approach that is both “regenerative and distributive”.

“There were some really fascinating points that she made. I think, at some point, that has to start to become the mainstream thinking, it’s just a question of when,” added Stephen.

Watch back the Robert Oakeshott Lecture

Employee ownership is ‘part of the solution’

In the build-up to the event, Kate had said employee-owned companies are “well positioned to be among the innovators and leaders that the world of business needs right now”.

And in her lecture, she reflected positively on employee ownership as a model, saying: “I’m here to celebrate what you’re doing with ownership.”

Kate said that employee ownership is a “powerful starting point”, but challenged EO businesses to see how far they can push more innovation with the model and business design, adding: “employee ownership is redistributive by design  – can it be regenerative as well?”

The Robert Oakeshott Lecture was attended by more than 140 people

She challenged EO businesses to:

  • Tell the story about what your ownership model enables you to do​;
  • Build on your employee ownership by incorporating other major stakeholders into the design of your enterprise (considering elements such as contractors and nature);
  • Innovate and incorporate new enterprise design ideas (e.g. supply-chain workers as board members)​
  • Join others in pioneering ways to redesign business and together advocate for public policies that support a redesign of business.

Stephen Hadlow of sponsors Brabners talking at the event

On this challenge, employee ownership adviser Stephen added: “I think everyone felt it was thought-provoking, there was a palpable sense of ‘wow’ throughout the room as there was some really interesting, forward-looking things she was talking about.

“There were certain ideas and concepts around employee ownership structures which felt familiar and really resonated with the audience. There were other things which went beyond today’s norms, but it certainly felt there was enough in what Kate was saying to get a sense that employee ownership is at least part of the solution and a step in the right direction in creating the ‘virtuous doughnut’ that she talked about.

“You’ve got to start somewhere, and if EO is anything else, it’s a building block to that eventual aim.

“There’s no doubt that the buzz around employee ownership at the moment is all about the growth of the sector, which in itself is fantastic. But it’s not just about the change of ownership; the really exciting bit is where EOBs take a leadership role in starting to change the way business operates at a fundamental level.

“That may not happen overnight, but I think employee voice in employee-owned companies will change and mature over time and that may well start to drive through some of the behaviours Kate spoke about.”

About Brabners

Stephen Hadlow, right, with EOA CEO James de le Vingne and guest speaker Kate Raworth

Brabners is one of the UK’s leading independent law firms, with more than 400 colleagues across its offices in Manchester, Lancashire, Liverpool and Leeds. Partner Stephen Hadlow is part of a team that helps corporate clients with their acquisition and succession strategies, with Brabners helping around a dozen companies a year transition to employee ownership.

With the Robert Oakeshott Lecture being “a particularly prestigious event in the EOA calendar”, Stephen says Brabners was keen to offer its support.

He added: “It’s a huge privilege to be supporting the EOA and particularly to reflect on Robert’s legacy in the context of the growth in the sector we’re currently seeing. It’s more important than ever that the conversation is around good models of employee ownership and that there are key events like this to bring the EO community together and promote the great work the EOA is doing.”

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