OAUK are proud to report that we supported ten companies into employee ownership in 2019. A flurry of activity towards the end of 2018, including the Priory Hotel, and 2020 Project Management, meant it was April before we saw the first transition of the year, both being Shetland companies.
ESPL is a highly specialist pharmaceutical consultancy based in Shetland, a family business with an internationally respected reputation. The Erwood family could easily have sold the business to one of the “Big Pharma” companies but chose instead to sell to an Employee Ownership Trust, thus guaranteeing the integrity of the work and the employment of the local and international staff.
Shetland was the location for the second transition of the year – and what a special one it is! Shetland knitwear has a long heritage and is known the world over, with a particular interest in the US and the Far East. Laurence Odie Knitwear is one of the last authentic producers of Shetland knitwear based in the islands. Laurence had received several offers to buy the company, but all came from businesses in the south, and a sale would have potentially led to outsourcing of production. This would have meant the knitwear would no longer be produced in Shetland. Laurence had long explored the idea of employee ownership and working closely with the great team at Hoswick, we finally made it happen.
Scotland has long been known as the home of engineering, and sadly we see so much of our Scottish engineering heritage disappear. Des and Michael Brown were keen that their successful engineering firm, GS Brown, based in Ladybank in Fife would continue to produce their high specification precision engineered products, providing jobs and opportunities for local people. For this reason, in May 2019 they sold their business to the employees. This was a particular landmark project for us as it was the 60themployee ownership transition that we had worked on.
What a delight it was to work with New Hopetoun Gardens in June! The garden centre is a mecca for gardeners and the owners, Dougal Philip and Lesley Watson are celebrities in the horticultural world. Their motivation to consider employee ownership was to preserve the uniqueness of the garden centre. New Hopetoun is known as the garden centre for gardeners where advice is dispensed along with the plants.. Dougal and Lesley didn’t want another chain taking over.. By choosing to sell to an Employee Trust, the company will preserve its independence and continue to deliver expert service to the growing number of loyal customers.
Glasgow based Aspire is an incredible company and it has been, and continues to be, a real privilege to work with such great people. Aspire supports people who need it, whether that is due to isolation, homelessness, addiction or leaving the criminal justice system. Set up by Peter Millar in 2002, the company operates across West and Central Scotland running a number of services and facilities. Peter set up Aspire because he believes people needing support are no different from anyone else, and the company’s unique philosophy has won them many awards. Peter could have sold out to one of the national care providers, but with a superb workforce and committed management team it made more sense to pass ownership to those who know Aspire best; the employees.
Buzzbase is a successful internet marketing firm in Dundee and they became employee owned in July. The owners Callum and Marion Cameron have no immediate plans to retire, but an approach to buy made them think about how disruptive an acquisition might be to what is such a loyal and stable team. Employee ownership wasn’t so much a succession option as it was a means to provide a stable platform for growth allowing the business to focus on the long term future.
August saw the completion of Grossart Associates’ move to employee ownership. The East Kilbride engineering consultancy saw employee ownership as a way to attract and keep the highest calibre of talent in what is a competitive sector. The sale to employees also allowed the two former owners, Bill Grossart and John MacDonald, phase their exit from the business whilst providing continuity to their wide client base
Keeping world leading demolition and dismantling firm, Safedem, headquartered in Dundee was the driver for William Sinclair in choosing to sell to the employees. William had bought over the long-standing family business 25 years ago and believes the success was largely down to the committed workforce. He believes they deserve to own it. Making the announcement to the employees was quite an emotional day – they were quite sure the company was to be sold to a US buyer – and no one expected to leave that meeting as a business owner.
It was a particular highlight of the year to work with the iconic Scottish Gallery, Scotland’s largest commercial gallery.The majority shareholder, Guy Peploe, was keen to see the gallery in a stable ownership model that would protect the gallery’s commitment to showcasing Scottish art and remain owned in Scotland. It was so encouraging to gain the approval of the 30 minority shareholders who agreed that employee ownership was the best move for the Gallery. The employees were delighted to learn that the future of the jewel in Scotland’s cultural crown is now safe in their hands.
For a number of reasons, some businesses opt not to publicise their change in ownership. We supported an international specialist consultancy make the move to employee ownership in October. The company operates with some of the world’s leading brands. A sale to an external buyer was possible, but the owner was concerned that any buyer would relocate the company to the US and the loyal Glasgow based employees would lose their jobs.
Exmos is a specialist IT firm based in Grangemouth. Owner Gordon Coulter had first heard of employee ownership whilst participating in the highly respected Growth Advantage Programme, where two successful employee owned businesses Merlin ERD and 4C Design told the story of their employee ownership journey. Gordon saw this as an ideal way to reward and incentivise staff and the company completed its move to employee ownership in November.
Just squeezing in before the end of the year it was a pleasure to work with an Aberdeen based oil services company. We can’t name them yet as they are holding off on publicity until the New Year but the documentation was all agreed and signed just before Christmas making this our 10thtransaction of the year.
And of course, in amongst the transitions both Alistair and I continue to support existing employee owned businesses working with Clansman Dynamics, Merlin ERD, Mediascape, Collective Architecture, Woollard & Henry, Stewartry Care and many other thriving companies all owned by their employees.
Looking forward, 2020 looks like being even busier. We currently have 8 companies currently undergoing transition due to complete in 2020 and a pipeline of more than 20 businesses all at different stages in their plans. The next decade will be the one where employee ownership is firmly on the table for business owners looking towards succession and opting for a model that provides sustainability and delivers business success that rewards the very people who create that success, the employees.