Synergy Vision – Our EO Story

Now in its 14th year, Synergy Vision (informally known as “SV”) has more than 60 employees across offices in London, Dublin and Sydney, and provides strategic communications support and medical education programmes for pharmaceutical clients across Europe, North and South America, and the Asia-Pacific region.

Starting with a vision, and sticking to our principles, the company has grown organically over the last decade while continuing to deliver high-quality medical communications and success in ways that reflect our four key values – Fresh, Smart, Open, Real.

We have always aimed to have a team-focused ethos at SV, promoting diversity in the workplace, a positive work-life balance and excellence in delivering for clients. This includes initiatives such as the 4-day working week (the first of its kind in medical communications), personalised benefits packages, a bespoke graduate development scheme for industry first-timers, as well as a programme to catapult mid-level managers to senior positions.

Initiatives like these have reignited widespread recognition for our commitment to individuals, engagement and governance – the three building blocks of good employee ownership – with the company being awarded many accolades over the years. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Investors in People platinum accreditation, placing it in the top 2% of UK companies and number 1 in its sector
  • Top 3 Best Small Workplace™ across all industries, assessed by Great Place to Work® (2020)
  • Inspiring Women in Business Flexible Working Initiative of the Year Award, issued by Management Today (2018).

Like most companies at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, SV was faced with many uncertainties – and that’s not even accounting for Brexit! – where we were immediately forced into all-hands-on-deck mode (even having to furlough some employees for a short period of time).

Global CEO, Ffyona Dawber, said: “We didn’t know how it would affect us. We held twice‑weekly board huddles, increased team meetings and carried out intensive planning with clients.

“Our number one priority was to do everything to protect our existing team and clients, ensuring regular communication and feedback loops, setting everyone up to effectively work from home within 2 weeks and increasing the support of our team, clients and suppliers.”

Amidst the challenges of the past year, and through constant communication with our employee‑elected People Committee and a collaborative and coordinated internal approach, we decided to push on and finalise preparations for our next natural step.

Following extensive research and discussions with Employee Ownership (EO) leaders, and once the business began to stabilize in the summer of 2020, with all furloughed employees back at work (albeit at home), SV successfully transitioned to EO in March 2021.

By transferring 87.5% of the company to employees (now held within an employee‑owned Trust), SV offered security and reassurance to all our employees in a time when it was, arguably, needed the most.

The decisions, and later impact, made by the board paved the way for the best future‑proofing plan for SV, allowing us to continue to put our people and our values first, as well as secure our future as an independent agency for years to come.

Ffyona described the rationale behind the transition: “Our values have always been people‑focused – we focus on our team, our clients and, ultimately, the patients whose lives we hope to change for the better.

“Over the years and, increasingly, during the last 5 years, I have been approached by bigger companies (and agents of bigger companies) who wanted to open discussions on buying SV.

“I always knew this would not be for us as it would be very unlikely that these companies would share our values – which I feel strongly about protecting.

“At work (and at home), living through a pandemic has shown me how important a sense of community is. We did everything to keep our team protected and our team did everything to protect the business.

“As for all businesses, this was an extremely challenging and often stressful time, but it showed us that people really are the only important thing in all of this.”

She added: “By ensuring the values, future growth and ultimate responsibility for the company stay with the people who know the business and help to build it, EO offers long‑term sustainability for SV and is a legacy of which we are immensely proud.”

As well as having a stake in SV, all employees now have an even greater voice in how the business is run, with Senior Medical Writer, Richard Maver, being appointed to the Trust as the employee representative following a vote by all employees.

Describing the transition, Richard said: “Having joined SV almost 4 years ago, I’ve seen, first‑hand, some major shifts – from a small to a medium-sized company, a 5- to a 4-day working week and many more – yet, moving to EO is the most interesting of them all.

“This move not only exemplifies the board’s core principle to always put employees first (and not sell to a larger group), but it’s also a fresh approach that gives all involved a sense of ownership and confidence.

“I’m looking forward to the work over the next few years and hope to unlock the power of employee engagement – with the aim to nurture an even more innovative, forward-thinking and productive culture.”

By recognizing the inherent benefits in EO, we have already seen positive results regarding individuals’ development and welfare, despite only being EO for 3 months.

These include improved employee engagement, productivity, innovation, motivation, safeguarding and mental wellbeing.

Aislinn Lloyd-Walsh, Account Manager and qualified Mental Health First Aider, said: “I’m so proud to be part of this company that is thriving day to day and going strength to strength, yet still keeping their employees’ welfare at the front of their mind.”

Despite the pandemic, the team have remained agile and focused on our purpose, with early signs (for FY22) pointing in the direction of recapturing, or even exceeding, financial targets.

Kirsty McAinsh, Chief Financial Officer, shared how EO has impacted the business within the first 3 months: “With EO, there is greater accountability, and employees feel they are working to make a difference to something that they own.

“This can be seen with revenue targets, where the team feel passionate about growing the client accounts and sharing client successes with their colleagues. When it comes to overhead spend, each budget holder feels an increased level of responsibility to ensure they are making the right spending choices.

“This personal accountability will then lead to greater business success and enhanced profit share for the new owners, so everyone is benefiting.”

These principles of shared ownership and organic growth underpin the board’s priorities of giving back to the current generation of employees (owners), while building stronger foundations for future employees.

The true impact of SV is perfectly summarized by Anne Hocking, Account Executive and new-starter in the SV Asia-Pacific team based in Sydney, who was drawn to join the company based on our intrinsic values.

Anne said: “One of the things that stood out to me about SV was that it puts its people first. I believe that when you trust your people, the business flourishes, and SV has taken the ultimate step in empowering its people by moving to EO.

“For me, having recently joined the team, learning about the move to EO motivates me to be a part of building something special, together.

“It is also encouraging to know that SV believes in us to take on the responsibility of growing the business in the future, which is especially reassuring during these uncertain times.

“This, along with the 4-day work week initiative, of course, is one of the main reasons that drew me to work for SV – it emphasises that, while many companies speak about valuing employee wellbeing, SV acts and is committed to creating a holistic, healthy work environment.”