Change is good – but some things are worth keeping. Many business owners decide to move their companies into employee ownership because they want some things to stay the same. They may want to ensure the business stays in the same location, providing current and future jobs in the community. There may be a long-standing, loyal customer base who expect certain standards of service, which competitors may not be in a position to deliver. Some owners recognise the contribution employees have made to the business, and want to secure their future. And some companies just have a unique way of being successful, and employee ownership provides a means of continuing to operate in that way.
I had the privilege of spending time yesterday with one such company. Galloway & MacLeod has manufactured and supplied animal feed to the agricultural sector since 1874. It’s a prosperous company, and a significant employer in the village of Stonehouse, South Lanarkshire. It is a highly specialised business; the composition of animal feed is painstakingly complex and the tracking process is rigorous. Every employee I met was cheerful, knowledgeable and appeared committed to their company. Yet, when asked about the move to employee ownership, the response was often, “Nothing has really changed.”
Many organisational development consultants would shake their heads at such a response. Yet to me, this was a ringing endorsement that employee ownership was the right move for this company. It is evident that the company’s commitment to excellence hadn’t changed. Innovation is a priority, as is sustainable development. Customers are central to the business and employees are actively encouraged to maintain their expertise. As well as being a traditional, old fashioned business, Galloway & MacLeod is right up there when it comes to progress, technology and continual improvement of their product and service for customers.
What has changed is that the issue of succession is gone, the threat of a trade sale and potential relocation has been removed, and the employees now have a real stake in their company, with more control over their destiny.
With all the talk about employee ownership being a complex, convoluted and a lengthy process, it was great to hear the company’s Chairman, Ralph MacLeod, say that it was an easy transition (which was supported by Co-operative Development Scotland). He doesn’t see any downside. Perhaps as the seller, he could have got a few more pounds for the business had he sold out to one of the large conglomerates, but as he says “It’s about optimising the value, not maximising the financial value”.
Employee ownership doesn’t have to be difficult, and is often the best outcome for business owners who want to secure the long term prosperity of their business.