Prestigious Knitwear Firm Now Owned by its Employees.

In a deal supported by Highlands & Islands Enterprise, ownership of Laurence Odie Knitwear Ltd transferred from founder Laurence Odie to the company’s employees.   Laurence has sold 100% of his shareholding to an Employee Ownership Trust.

Laurence Odie Knitwear is based in Hoswick, Sandwick on Shetland’s south mainland.  The company export 83% of their production, with the Far East and North America now being their main markets.   They employ 12 people directly and are currently recruiting to meet the growing demand for authentic Shetland knitwear.   Laurence Odie Knitwear uses traditional methods for the production of its iconic garments, which have achieved endorsement from top designers worldwide.  Quality is paramount at Laurence Odie Knitwear, along with the belief that Shetland wool is the best in the world.

Laurence started his company in 2004, following the closure of Laurence J Smith Ltd.  Whilst adhering to traditional forms of production, he has introduced new technology to enhance the processes. The company is always looking to the future, particularly using digital media to grow the markets.  Laurence was adamant that he would not sell to a buyer that led to ownership of the business leaving Shetland. Once he learned of the employee ownership option, he knew this was what he wanted for the firm. He introduced senior employees to the concept at a presentation hosted by the SIC and HIE at Lerwick Town Hall.  Dennis Overton of Alness based salmon processing firm, Aquascot, and co-founder of Shetland Vets, Juliet Nicolson talked about why each had chosen employee ownership.

Laurence is happy that this has finally come to fruition. Laurence plans to remain with the business, gradually handing over the reins until he retires in a few years.

“We create something very special here in Hoswick.  We are one of the largest producers of real Shetland knitwear – designed, produced and sold from Shetland using Shetland wool. I’m pleased we found a way to ensure that the company stays in Shetland, in the hands of the people who know it best, the employees.”

Louise Laurenson, one of the newly promoted Directors of the company, says that the staff never expected to become owners of the business.    “We were a bit unsure at first as to whether this was the right move for us.  We hadn’t heard of it before.  As we learned more about it, we realised what a great opportunity Laurence was handing over.  It’s an exciting time and we’re all committed to protecting the legacy of the company, and to taking Laurence Odie Knitwear into the future.”

Employee ownership specialist, Carole Leslie, supported the company through the transition process.  “The Employee Ownership Trust provides a tax effective succession option for business owners.  Employee ownership works for the seller, the employees, the customers and keeps the business in the local community. Evidence demonstrates that companies owned by their employees outperform their peers on just about every business metric. It was a real privilege to work with the team at Laurence Odie Knitwear – a truly iconic Shetland brand.”

The Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP wishes the employee owners of Laurence Odie Knitwear well. “I am delighted to hear of Laurence Odie Knitwear’s move to employee ownership. This is a perfect example of a traditional Shetland business, trading worldwide, playing an important part in the Shetland business and social community. Employee ownership will secure the business in ShetlandI do wish the new employee owners of Laurence Odie every success in the future.”

Neil Henderson, Development Manager, Economic Development, Shetland Islands Council, believes that employee ownership is the way forward for Shetland businesses. “We have more than 400 owner managed businesses on Shetland.  Options for these owners are limited when it comes to retirement.  Potential buyers for the companies may not be on the islands, and this can have a far-reaching impact on the local economy.  By making this move to employee ownership, Laurence Odie has not only future proofed the company, he has also protected a significant number of jobs, which is good for Shetland’s rural economy.”

Katrina Wiseman, Highlands and Islands Enterprise account manager for Laurence Odie Knitwear Ltd says “HIE are delighted to have supported Laurence Odie in making this significant move. Not only will employee ownership allow Laurence to retire when he wants to, it protects the business and the jobs and roots the company in Shetland. It’s a succession solution worth exploring for many Shetland business owners.”

Christopher Kerr, Corporate Partner with Harper Macleod advised the company on the transition. “The employee ownership route is an excellent succession option for businesses who are committed to their local communities. It was a real pleasure working with the team at Laurence Odie Knitwear. The company is part of Shetland’s rich commercial heritage. Laurence Odie has ensured that will continue.”

Irene Hambleton, Partner, RSM UK supported the company in structuring the transaction.   “As a firm, we have worked on many of these transactions and have seen excellent outcomes.  The EOT provides a tax effective way to meet the aspirations of all parties. The company continues as before, the employment is sustained as long as the company is successful, and the owner can exit at their own pace having achieved a fair price for their business.”