Esteem Training – Our EO Story: Succession planning – a team triumph

At Esteem Training, we transitioned to employee ownership relatively recently – on 16 March 2022 to be precise – as the crowning achievement of our 35th anniversary year, and we couldn’t be happier or more enthusiastic advocates for employee ownership.

You could argue that evolving to become an employee-owned business was not only a natural progression but possibly even somewhat inevitable. Our founder, Trudy Mackenzie, established Esteem Training in Glasgow in 1986 initially as a bespoke IT and project management company.

We moved into the construction and engineering sectors after landing a contract to work at the London 2012 Olympics Athletes’ Village as it was being built. We have since evolved into a high-quality, supportive, specialist training company dedicated to mentoring construction and engineering sector supervisors and managers to achieve vocational qualifications designed to help supercharge their careers.

We have operated a four-day working week since June 2020, with no reduction in salary, and are a Living Wage and Disability Confident company committed to diversity and inclusion.

We consistently achieve a 91% candidate success rate and have been honoured to collect numerous industry accolades along the way. We’re fortunate to enjoy long-term advanced vocational training partnerships with leading UK construction and civil engineering companies including Cala Group, Bell Group, CCG Group, George Leslie Limited and W M Donald Limited, through funding programmes managed by Skills Development Scotland under their Modern Apprenticeships framework.

Sharing expertise and providing support ‘above and beyond’ is therefore embedded in our company’s DNA as well as that of our fantastic, talented team.

How we came to choose employee ownership

Our three former company directors – Trudy Mackenzie, Finance Director Ian Grigg, and Martina Höfner, Operations Director – had been researching succession planning options over a five-year period since Trudy felt it important that she step back to assume more of the consultancy role she now fulfils. As part of a management buyout in 2019, Ian and Martina became company directors after purchasing shares from Trudy who was then sole owner/director.

As a successful and growing company, we could easily have sold the business to a third-party from the UK’s construction or engineering sectors, however we rejected this approach out of hand since we felt it could end up diluting what we had worked so hard to build with our team, many of whom have been with us for over 10 years.

Moreover, the idea of working under a new and potentially less people-centred business was not the right fit for our team nor in keeping with our open and supportive company culture. We have always been certain that our talented, dedicated team represents both the beating heart and future success of Esteem Training.

As part of our research, in January 2021 Trudy and Martina attended an online seminar on employee ownership run by Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS) – part of Scottish Enterprise – and that workshop switched us on to the possibility for our own succession planning. During that webinar, several SMEs talked about their experiences and we instantly understood the culture fit with what we had built at Esteem Training.

We decided fairly swiftly that employee ownership was for us, after which CDS was instrumental in offering advice as well as funding an independent feasibility study which told us that we were well placed to proceed. We then engaged with a fantastic employee ownership advisor – Andrew Harrison of Co-ownership Solutions – who supported us through the process over the following eight-month period.

Each year, we hold several Team Development and Planning Days. These days are a significant investment and we work hard to get the balance right between work and play. We shared our plans with the team early in the process and, at our October 2021 Away Day, the team voted in favour of employee ownership.

Images © Martin Shields

Wednesday, 16 March 2022 marked Esteem Training’s own ‘Employee Ownership Day’ and we celebrated this landmark achievement with a full morning of team workshops at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow city centre. Never ones to pass up the opportunity for some fun team bonding, we spent the early afternoon learning circus skills, pictured, under the watchful eye of Circus Sensible followed by dinner and a few cocktails at the city’s sophisticated Ivy Restaurant.

All shares previously owned by Trudy, Ian and Martina have been transferred into an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT). Benefits of the transition to EOT include rewarding our team – including through effective profit share in the form of a tax-free bonus scheme – and safeguarding job security, while ensuring that our company culture and management team remain in place.

Trudy is the founder trust member on our trustee board, which we established to ensure that everything the company does delivers benefit for the employees as owners – and we are all now employee owners.

Trudy’s fellow trustees include one independent, respected construction industry professional, Linzi Shearer of Legal & General Affordable Homes, together with our business development manager, Andy Findlater, who was voted in by the team. In addition, our quality manager Debbie Knights was elected to join the management board responsible for the day-to-day running of the business.

Looking to the future

Reflecting on the future prospects for our company, we see evidence every day that the UK construction sector has significant issues around supervisory management and leadership roles and achieving sustainability and net zero targets.

We’re continuing to see big skills gaps in these areas for larger SMEs where that management and leadership infrastructure is vital, yet that same infrastructure is not always in place to allow them to grow. We fully understand those challenges, having invested in our own management training and actively chosen employee ownership as the most equitable, productive solution to our own succession planning quandary.

Ethical business practice, celebrating diversity and nurturing talent to create opportunity lies at the heart of everything that we do. And research has shown that a combination of shared ownership and employee participation results in a business that is more engaged, productive, innovative and sustainable.

We are therefore delighted to have made the important transition to employee ownership to reward our outstanding team, ensuring that the future direction and ownership of the business remains in their capable hands.

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