Mariana urges a shift to an economy that makes, not takes, at the Robert Oakeshott Lecture

The 200+ attendees at the Employee Ownership Association (EOA’s) seventh Robert Oakeshott Lecture were urged by Professor Mariana Mazzucato to challenge, debate and understand value.

The lecture, which is held every year in commemoration and celebration of the EOA’s founder Robert Oakeshott, this year marked 40 years of the EOA.

In her lecture Mariana, a celebrated economist – named “one of the three most important thinkers on innovation” by the New Republic – and an advisor to policymakers around the world, brought together the many issues affecting the economy and the environment that are the impact of businesses extracting rather than creating and sharing value.

Mariana said: “It’s only really in the 1980s with this obsession with maximising shareholder value rather than stakeholder value that we started to see the real problems of profit being not being reinvested in people, in research and development and the lack of reinvestment of profits in general. So the question is now how do we reward those making the value through collective effort to make sure we plough more money back into the economy?”

Mariana’s lecture proposed that to create an economy that delivers real value while also minimising environmental impacts needs a missioned, challenge-led approach with cross-sector interaction and support. Her assertion is that there needs to be a shift from the state patching things up as they go wrong to transforming to deliver economic outcomes with the same drive and conviction of putting a man on the moon “which involved more than 15 sectors of the economy and 300 projects of which most failed before succeeding”.

Mariana finished her lecture with a thought-provoking quote from her book.

She said: “If we cannot dream of a better future and try to make it happen there is no real reason why we should care about value. And this is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.”

Deb Oxley EOA Chief Executive said: “In our 40th year the current political and economic climate shows the desperate need to find new ways to deliver a more sustainable, responsible and inclusive form of business that can deliver more benefits to society. The lecture was a chance not just to reflect on Robert’s aims in founding the EOA with the aim of creating ‘better business’, but a chance to look forward and find our role in helping to support a more sustainable capitalism that can truly support the creation and distribution of value.”

Robert Postlethwaite, MD of Robert Oakeshott Lecture sponsor Postlethwaite, said:

“Our practice is founded in the belief that capitalism needs a reboot with employee ownership as a prominent and significant part of this. While it is easy for us to say what we think is wrong and how there should be fairer and more inclusive capitalism, it is far harder to flesh out what is needed and provide worked examples, which is why we need thinkers like Mariana.

“We’re delighted to be part of bringing Mariana’s thoughts to this audience so that we can all consider the fit of employee ownership with creating value in the economy, for which we think there are huge synergies.”

As a tribute to Robert Oakeshott in the 40th year of the EOA, long standing supporter Dr David Erdal, an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Management at the University of St Andrews, who has worked in the area of economic democracy for many decades having a PhD in ‘The Psychology of Sharing: an Evolutionary Approach’ and who with the support of Robert Oakeshott took his own family’s business Tullis Russell into employee ownership as well as supporting others to do the same, said: “Knowing Robert was one of life’s huge privileges. The anonymous writer of his obituary in the Guardian was quite right when he or she noted his bad dress sense, convivial style and intoxicating discourse.

“I suspect that in there was a passionate sense of fairness, a deep sympathy for anyone oppressed, a delight when anyone stood up against it and a belief in participation by all. And not just to report on this but to actively work towards making change happen, much like everyone here.

“He would have been chuckling with delight to see today’s lecturer, whose truly original work has done much to shift the focus of economics away from the damaging neoliberal financial paradigm.”


Journalist and author Isabel Oakeshott, a niece of Robert Oakeshott, also spoke of her uncle: “Robert always liked to talk politics when I visited him. And I have been trying to work out what he would think of our current political mess. I suspect he would profoundly disagree with my position as a Brexiteer while sharing the same frustration in how the extent that the turmoil created around Brexit is sapping the time of our government to pursue what matters to people in their daily lives.

“His style was more to listen and I am sure he would trot out some of his well-worn phrases such as ‘I would suspect that is more true than not true’.

“Employee owned businesses achieve greater productivity and are more resilient and really importantly they have engaged more engaged and less stressed workforces.

“He would also agree that now more than ever in these incredibly challenging and unstable political and economic times employee ownership feels really relevant. So when our politicians have finally returned to their senses, I think there’s a huge opportunity to present employee ownership as part of the process of reshaping our economy for post Brexit Britain, if we ever get there.”

For a video of the lecture visit our event page