Prolific postproduction facility, Suite Ltd, claims industry first in move to employee ownership

Suite has become one of the first employee owned post-production TV facilities after the company founders sold the business to an employee ownership trust (EOT) in a process supported by EOA Supporter Member J Gadd Associates.

The Soho-based boutique facility provides editing, audio, and visual effects for TV producers, broadcasters, and streaming services. It’s clocked up an impressive list of credits including sitcom Not Going Out, topical panel show Have I Got News For You, gameshow Gladiators, and comedy-drama The Duchess, among many others.

Now, the business is entering a new chapter after making the transition to employee ownership (EO) late last year, earning hundreds of congratulatory messages from clients and competitors.

Chairman and co-founder Julian Aston said:

“The transition to employee ownership will enhance our commitment to client satisfaction and provide a solid foundation for the long term stability of the business.

“I believe we are the first business in our sector to become employee owned and the announcement has been welcomed by clients and staff alike.”

Keeping the company ethos alive

Suite Ltd was co-founded in 2001 by TV pioneer Julian Aston (whose credits include Tomorrow’s World and the creation of Teletext) in partnership with award-winning editor Jon Blow, and sales supremo Shelley Fox.

The original business had twelve employees working in a single building in Newman Street, London. Flashforward twenty years, and the business has forty staff in three interconnecting buildings.

“Throughout the past two decades, the company’s ethos has remained the same: employees would always have a voice. As part of that ethos, it operated a collegiate management model. But as the founders grew older, it became clear a succession plan was needed – one that enshrined and safeguarded these values.

“We didn’t want to sell to a third party or run the business into the ground, so we looked for years to find the right succession strategy.

“Employee ownership will mean that we have passed the baton on to our brilliant young and talented staff,” said Julian.

The journey to EO

The journey to EO began back in 2021 after Suite Ltd shareholders decided they weren’t interested in selling to a third party or competitor. The aim was to maintain the company’s unique values and ensure staff wouldn’t lose their jobs.

Recognising the importance of a realistic valuation, Suite reached out for a formal valuation of the business. Drawing on historical earnings, track record, and market position, the auditors delivered a range of valuations.

Once shareholders considered and approved the valuation in principle, the Chairman embarked on interviews with EO specialist accountants and lawyers.

Ultimately, Suite appointed accountancy practice Pett Franklin to guide them through the complex transition. Armed with detailed historic management accounts and a five-year projected business plan, the accountancy initiated a six-month due diligence process, ensuring the viability of the plan and valuation.

With shareholder approval secured at a formal board meeting, Suite agreed to sell 100% of the shares to the newly formed Suite TV Employee Trust Ltd. Obtaining a 701 clearance letter from HMRC, confirming the exemption of the share sale from capital gains taxation, followed shortly after.

Legal Clarity LLC – an EOA Supporter Member led by senior partner Jane Jeavon – took charge of preparing all legal documentation for the sale of shares to the Trust. The Trust itself was constituted with four trustees, including an independent chairman, a former shareholder, a director of Suite Ltd, and an employee trustee.

To navigate the intricacies of the transition, Suite Ltd engaged consultant Jeremy Gadd of J Gadd Associates. Through a series of meetings, both for trustees and associates, J Gadd Associates provided valuable guidance in the months that followed.

On the pivotal day of October 25, 2023, an early morning breakfast meeting brought together all staff, where Julian explained the rationale and process behind the shift to EO.

The Operational Board and trustees devised a management structure reflective of employee ownership values. They established an employee-based operational board, making the first decision to rebrand all employees as “Associates,” signifying a new era for Suite as an employee-owned entity.

“We are now ready to move to the next exciting phase in our history,” says Julian.