University of Oxford's Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business  - CLEO Skip to main content


Policy makers, academics, employees and citizens more generally are showing increasing interest in the participatory approach to stakeholder involvement created by co-owned and mutual enterprise. Sea changes in the UK and global economies have reinforced the importance of the mutual and co-owned business sectors, with their high standards of corporate ethics, community responsibility and long-term sustainable strategies.

The Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business (MCOB) is a response to this new environment. Led by the centre’s Director, Jonathan Michie, it aims to be a centre of new thinking, new ideas, new evidence and new education on these increasingly significant sectors of the UK economy. The principal activities of the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business will thus be research and professional development via tailored short courses and educational programmes focused on the business needs of the mutual and co-owned sectors. With a commitment to applied knowledge and dissemination, the Centre will also run conferences, seminars and guest lectures and aims to promote networking and partnering within and beyond Oxford.


  • Lead research into the performance of the mutual and co-owned sectors
  • Offer professional development programmes closely matched to the needs of relevant businesses and the development of their current and future leaders
  • Encourage debate and advance new thinking about mutuality and co-ownership
  • Create a national and international network of academics, practitioners and policy makers

The ownership of businesses is a crucial element in determining how they are governed, whose interests they prioritise and how they are held to account.  While conventional, shareholder-owned businesses are primarily accountable to external investors, for whom they are expected to maximise financial returns, mutual and co-owned businesses are organised along different principles, which factor in a broader array of interests and values.

Mutuals (such as building societies in the financial sector or Foundation Trust Hospitals in the public sector) are run on behalf of their members, who use and depend on them; they do not sell shares.  Co-owned businesses are either organised as mutuals, accountable to their employees (such as the John Lewis Partnership in the UK) or employees hold a controlling share.

This is an under-appreciated and under-researched part of the economy.  The Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business exists to develop and compile research on these alternative corporate forms, and to act as an academic hub for economists, sociologists, political scientists, lawyers and business and management scholars, with an interest in broadening debates about ownership and corporate governance.

The assumption that businesses ought necessarily be governed for the maximisation of financial returns to external shareholders has come under increasing strain in recent years, and there is growing public and policy interest in challenging the orthodox model of the corporation.  Via research, events, advocacy and the development of a new educational curriculum in mutual business, the Centre will seek to become a leading source of expertise on ownership and corporate governance, and to develop academic and public understanding of mutual and employee-owned models.

The Centre is supported by the member organisations for co-owned and mutual businesses in the UK – Mutuo and the Employee Ownership Association. The Centre’s first corporate sponsor is Simplyhealth.

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