Will Hutton calls for the repurposing of enterprise at the annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture

Broadcaster, journalist and writer Will Hutton used his address at the Employee Ownership Association’s annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture to call for employee ownership to figure centrally as part of a national conversation about repurposing the UK economy.

Reflecting on stalled economic growth, growing wealth inequality, a lack of innovation and low levels of productivity, over 150 guests gathered at Cass Business School and heard the author of recent best-seller ‘How Good We Can Be’ make a plea for UK business to clarify their purposes, in order to develop more trust and better engagement of employees, customers and communities.

Stating his belief that ‘great firms have a purpose and a moral narrative’, and illustrating this with examples including Apple, Virgin – and employee-owned Arup, Will called for more businesses to make trust, purpose and integrity part of their operation.

With a clear and empowering address Will argued that, looking forward, UK businesses would take a longer term view of their future, prioritise investments in research and development and, through better employee engagement, improve their productivity.

Commenting that the model of ownership of an enterprise is a critical driver of corporate behaviour, he called for more businesses to be ‘anchored around block shareholders’ who have a vested interest in the long term health of the business, pointing out that employee owned firms inherently exhibit this as part of their ownership structure.

Will closed the lecture with a passionate plea that UK businesses should be challenged to declare their purpose as part of corporate or fiscal reporting, hence making them more accountable for their actions, and leading to greater sustainability in the economy.

The audience of employee owned business owners, those considering the model, interested parties from Government, and members of the Oakeshott family then engaged in a lively and entertaining question and answer session, before taking a final opportunity to network, as well as purchase some signed copies of Will’s latest book, provided by EOA member Blackwell Books.

The EOA would like to extend our thanks to Prof. Jo Silvester, Deputy Dean, and Prof. Ajay Bhalla of Cass Business School, for their help in hosting the event, our speaker Will Hutton, and of course to members of the Oakeshott family whose continued support makes the Robert Oakeshott lecture such a fitting tribute to his legacy.