22 May 2017 – Deborah Oxley was convinced that employee-owned companies was the way to go during her interview, 5 years ago, to become the new director of membership of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA).
Hugh Facey, a director on the EOA board, showed Oxley first-hand how his company, Gripple’s Old Gun Works factory, worked.
“I’m just a salesman,” Facey joked. “But I believe in looking after people. Look after your people and be the best at what you do.”
Oxley said she was sold, and took, the job.
“Hugh’s passion for his people and the purpose of his business blew me away too, and it was so infectious in the employee owners I met there. They cared so much about their work. I was intrigued that this business model had such a tremendous effect on the staff. Hugh was also the first one to spell out his unusual approach which is that ‘labour should employ capital’ rather than ‘capital employing labour’. And why isn’t there more of it in the UK?”
Oxley wants to ensure the movement stays focused. A high number of engineering and manufacturing companies as well as professional services go for this ownership structure. There are currently 325 employee-shared ownership businesses in the UK, with turnover of around £35bn, employing at least 200,000 people.
“They tend to be run by people who are utterly dedicated to their profession, are highly innovative by nature, have created many patents and want to leave a legacy – and they don’t want their businesses sold off. They are also all strong believers that people are their greatest assets,” states Deborah Oxley.
There are all sorts of employee-owned companies, from John Lewis Partnership, to Scott Bader, Arup, Wilkin & Son, the Tiptree jam makers and now Lush, the soapmakers, after its owners recently put a slice of the company into a trust for employees. All the while, Grant Thornton’s boss Sacha Romanovitch has led the accountancy firm away from the partnership model to one of shared ownership by its 4,500 staff.
According to the survey YouGov, the public has more trust in employee-owned businesses and would like to see more of them, particularly at a time when trust in business per se is at its lowest.
Oxley’s question to Prime Minister Theresa May is: why do employee-share ownership not get even a mention in the government’s recent paper on industrial strategy?
The government should acknowledge the success and give employee-share ownership more momentum, more awareness. This business model needs to be seen as mainstream.
 Gripple is a fantastic example of one of the UK’s most successful engineering companies – it makes wire-joining and tensioning devices for fencing, among other things – which is owned directly by its employees and can never be sold. All Gripple’s 460 workers own shares; indeed, they are obliged to buy shares themselves on joining. There is a minimum wage of £20,000, no HR department, daily meetings and team briefings, and all staff have pension and healthcare provisions. And only one person has been sacked in decades.