VIDEO: Why employee ownership can and will be a next generation business model | EOA Conference keynote speech from our chief executive

EOA Chief Executive James de le Vingne gave a keynote speech to start the 2022 EOA Annual Conference at the ACC in Liverpool. Here’s what he said:

What comes to mind when you think about the future?

Maybe it’s a change in where you live or work, or success in achieving a personal goal. Perhaps it’s broader, about family and friends and our wider communities. For many, it will be how do we stand into the challenges that the next few months are likely to throw at us.

Like many parents, I think about my children’s future, about the people they will become. I also think about the world they are set to inherit, and how different it will be. Naturally, I hope they find happiness, that they are afforded opportunities to spend their time doing things they love.

But like every parent, I also worry. I worry that instead of choices, their futures may follow a pattern of difficult decisions. Decisions driven by a scarcity of resource, or workplaces that continues to prioritise shareholder value over their personal, social and environmental needs.

My hope is that in the 10 years that it will take for them to complete their education, the incredible pace of change and opportunities this creates will have been channeled into a force for good. That priorities will have been recalibrated to ensure everyone has the opportunities and resources needed to thrive and succeed.

And I have reasons for optimism. There are kernels of hope popping all over the place, from incredible technological and medical advancements to the steady spread of green energy and transport.

There is also Employee Ownership

Like all of you, I believe that Employee Ownership is one of the most exciting and energised ways to do business. And that is why I am here talking to you today.

I share your belief that businesses and society work better when employees themselves have currency in the day-to-day operations of the businesses THEY own.

I have had the privilege of spending the first six months as CEO meeting many wonderful employee-owned businesses, and employee owners across the UK.

I have visited your incredible factories, care homes, adventure parks and offices. I have met many passionate employee owners who talk about their workplaces and colleagues as family.

I have spoken to you about how hard it can be to lead in an employee-owned culture – and how you have had to adapt your thinking and approach to every day tasks and processes to create more equitable and meaningful workplaces.

I have listened to stories of how being employee owned has transformed your day-to-day experiences at work, and how it has empowered and rewarded you. I have heard how you prioritise each other, to ensure your fellow employee owners are empowered to step up and take on new roles. Roles that allow them and the business to uncover and harness their potential.

I have also heard you say, why doesn’t everyone do it like this?

I have been inspired by the richness and warmth that exists in each of your businesses, and the commitment you share with one another. These are things that I want for my children.  These are the foundations that I believe SHOULD underpin today and tomorrow’s model for business.

Championing employee ownership model

I do not, and have not worked in an EO business. But I have spent most of my career working with communities who, like you, have challenged the status quo, who have broken molds to lead by example.

I also know membership associations, and how to combine your incredible individual efforts into a powerful community. I understand how local places and their economies develop and evolve, and how to build partnerships that ensure we are more than the sum of our individual parts. I know what it takes to galvanise an aligned, but often disparate set of views into an impactful voice capable of securing the attention of those in power.

My commitment to you then, is to lead the EOA with a relentless energy, and to champion your way of doing business.

I will advocate EO passionately and push on doors to remove barriers that get in your way because I believe EO can help us respond to the current economic turbulence and uncertainty, as well as pave the way to a positive future in which everyone is afforded a stake and say. That as a network working together, we can be a force for truly positive change.

I will need your feedback, ideas and support to do this well, so please do come and say hello and share you experiences and what comes to mind when you think about the future.

So, where do we go next?

Well, there are two points I think we should consider. First is the need to embrace the crucial role of continued learning as a community, with empowered, informed and engaged employees at the heart of what we do.

And, second, that despite the current challenges, we need to continue setting our sights on a positive future, one where the sector continues to grow.

So, to my first point and the importance of recognising and embracing the synergy between business and the people who energise it.

Only through openly sharing ideas, collaborating, supporting and developing creative solutions – with EMPLOYEES at the heart of decision making – can we honestly say that as a network, we are developing and delivering ‘Good EO’…

And that, of course, is exactly what we’re doing over the next couple of days. It’s why we’re here…

We have compiled an incredible line-up of speakers for you, kicking off shortly with John Vary, Futurologist at the John Lewis Partnership, who will share how he helps his colleagues notice signals of the future and translate them into opportunities that have business impact now.

And as those of you who are familiar to the EOA Conference will know, there are also a wealth of employee owners sharing their insights and experience openly, for the benefit of the wider EO family.

In addition to our speakers, I’m also delighted to share that I have committed the EOA to expand our EO Learn offer. We’re collaborating with others in the sector to ensure that we collate learning and best practice to help bring ‘Good EO’ to life.

We will also continue to curate a mix of in-person and virtual spaces so that you can come together, to share, learn and build on where we are today.

This conference and our other signature events are key elements of this, but so is providing you with a best-in-class digital member experience. One that enables you connect with one another in a way and time that works for you. Expect to see some positive changes to how you engage with the EOA over the coming months.

Do say hello to the EOA team in the exhibition space who are eager to share more about this and future opportunities, as well as listen to your ideas.

Overcoming challenges… together

Secondly, let’s talk about the challenges and how together we can overcome them.

I don’t need to tell any of you how stressful the last couple of years have been. We’ve all seen first-hand the confusion, anxiety, disruption, distress and devastation that Covid-19 has wrought on business across the globe. No business has been safe and no business model, perfect.

But if there was one that managed to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of all the confusion and change, it’s employee ownership.

That’s why despite everything, our sector continues to grow. We are now a network of over 1,000 businesses, and we’re showing no signs of slowing down.

This is why we can look forward to the future not with a sense of dread and desperation, but with a sense of positivity and pride – because we know EO works.

And perhaps now, more than ever, we must come together to celebrate what we have and can achieve. I hope you are all looking forward to some fun this evening, when we will announce the results of this year’s EO Stories campaign, along with a couple of surprises!

And it’s our success that continues to draw the attention of others outside our sector, some of which look to us as examples of an alternative future, as a beacon.

Comprehensive and meaningful evidence

But that comes with responsibility. Now, more than ever, we are being compelled to be transparent and accountable for what we do, so it’s imperative that we take very seriously our role in creating a comprehensive and meaningful evidence base – one that clearly illustrates how we are successfully practicing ‘Good EO’ and what specific impacts that success is having.

As many of you already know, in order to gain better insights into the impact of what we do, the EOA has commissioned the Knowledge Programme – the sectors most ambitious and transformational research project to date.

The insights we glean from this will enable us to point to the ways in which we are regularly having a positive and measurable impact not just on businesses and individuals, but on the UK economy as whole.

It goes without saying that projects of this size are always a team effort and so we need your help.

Our partners at Ownership at Work are here to speak to you over the next couple of days about how you can support this work by becoming ‘knowledge partners’. Please do visit their exhibition stand to learn more and pledge your support.

Equipped with new knowledge and supporting data, we will all be better placed to champion the role of EO as a cornerstone of our economic future

A way of working that benefits everyone

Just as electric cars are the next generation of transport… EO can and will be a next generation business model.

A forward-thinking, future-proof solution that helps us realise a far more productive future. And in doing so, our community will catalyse a reimagining of our economy, one that is reoriented to prioritise our collective societal and environmental demands over individualistic, short-term interests.

I truly believe that, sooner than later, EO will be a widely acknowledged and familiar way of doing business. A business model that is superior to everything that has gone before – a way of working together that benefits EVERYONE and allows them to fulfil their own individual potential, as well as the potential of their businesses and their communities.

Will EO become fully autonomous, just like the electric cars of tomorrow? Who knows.

But if it does, that’s good news, because it allows us to do more at the wheel and focus on the things that really make a difference.

My hope and vision for EO is that we exert a positive, meaningful influence way beyond our direct community.

Because when we do, when we work together towards that shared goal, we will build part of the future we want all our children to inherit.

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