At the heart of this report are ten stories, accounts of ten enterprises that – despite the inevitable challenges and problems of everyday business life – are growing, making profits and contributing to the economic health of the country.
There is much that these ten businesses do not share in common. They differ markedly in size, their annual turnovers ranging from below £5m to a quarter of a billion pounds. A number have several hundred staff (in two cases, over a thousand workers), while others employ twenty people or fewer. They operate in very different sectors of the economy: three are engaged in particular parts of traditional manufacturing, one is a specialist food manufacturer, another runs a chain of children’s day nurseries, and another a cash-and-carry business. Two of our case study organisations are professional consultancies and one an international investment fund management company. The tenth runs leisure centres, places where we can all go to relax and unwind when not working for our living.
This report will also be useful to business advisers and professionals. A number of reports in recent years – including a 2008 document Share Value, produced by the enquiry on employee ownership undertaken by an All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs chaired by Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP – have drawn attention to the perceived lack of knowledge among some advisers of the employee ownership model. Share Value reported that knowledge was ‘at best patchy, and at worst nonexistent’. It called for the professional accountancy institutes and associations to encourage greater knowledge among their members, and conveyed the same message to advisers with regional development agencies, Business Link and their equivalents in Scotland and Wales. Business schools too, it said, need to integrate employee-owned case studies and materials into their curricula.
The question to ask employee ownership sceptics is: ‘Why not?’ As Willie Watt of Martin Currie succinctly puts it: ‘Every company has to be owned by someone – so why not by the people working in the business?’