Carole Leslie

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  1. “By making the change, we preserve the past”

    August 16, 2012

    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.


  2. Peter Huntley – a life well-lived

    March 4, 2012

    The best thing about my work is being welcomed into so many great companies. They aren’t all household names and not all of them are experiencing the easiest of times right now.

    I had the privilege of visiting one such company this week.  The TAS Partnership is a transport consultancy based in Preston. It’s a small business, under 20 employees, all of them passionate about what they do.  TAS Partnership became employee owned because its founder, Peter Huntley, wanted the business to remain committed to excellence in public transport. He didn’t want to see the company sold to a larger organisation where that excellence might be diluted. Peter recognised the contribution the employees made to that success and he wanted them to take control of the business, and share in the rewards. I had the privilege of working with Peter, the Board and the employees as they moved into employee ownership in 2009.  He was a challenging client, but only because he wanted TAS Partnership to stay true to his vision of enabling accessible, affordable public transport.

    As well as being a well-known character in the field of  transport, he was dedicated to raising funds for charity. Indeed, I first met Peter at a TAS Partnership board meeting where amidst the suits, he was wearing a “John o’ Groats to Lands End” teeshirt which he had worn on one of his fundraising cycle trips.

    Tragically, Peter died while training for a trip to the North Pole. Everyone who knew this vital. passionate man was shocked at his death. It really was not believable. Peter Huntley, with so much left to give, to be no longer with us. How fitting then, that attendees to Peter’s funeral arrived in a fleet of buses.  I use the word attendees rather than mourners, because the funeral was a true celebration of the life of a man who touched and inspired so many.

    Peter was raising funds for Transaid, the charity that works to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods across Africa and the developing world through creating better transport networks. Peter’s website is still open for donations. You can donate here

    Peter Huntley 1956 – 2012

  3. Circle Partnership and Hinchingbrooke Hospital – a test for employee ownership?

    February 12, 2012

    Hinchingbrooke Hospital, described variously as “failing”, a “basket case” “indebted” was under threat of closing.  Yet, the fact that the contract to run the hospital, a contact decided by open tender, was won by employee-owned Circle Partnership, has caused great controversy.  There have been many snide remarks about who actually owns Circle – is it financiers in smoke filled rooms just waiting for the day they can cash in their shares? is it evil autocrats with plans to subvert our beloved National Health Service?  Or is it just a group of people who want to find a way to deliver better health care?

    Because that is what Circle Partnership do – deliver better care.  Circle Partnership believe that clinical decisions should be made by clinicians – not bureaucrats, accountants or politicians.  Circle Partnership believe that those closest to the patient, make the decisions with that patient. Circle Partnership believe that their patients deserve the best; whether that is the best in healthcare, catering, service or surroundings. As Ali Parsa says, “Why settle for good enough, when you can strive to be great”.  The founders of Circle put a lot of thought into how Circle could be structured to achieve greatness, and decided that having more than 50% of the shareholding in the hands of those inside the business – rather than in corporate and external shareholders portfolios- the company could retain their vision of truly patient centred care.

    Yes, Circle also have external investors.  However, with a strong vision of transforming healthcare, there may have been no other way to finance their ambitious strategy.

    I had the pleasure of visiting Circle Bath with some members of the Employee Ownership Association . To hear a theatre nurse say that for the first time in her career, she was treated as an equal in the operating theatre was humbling. To hear how a consultant lost his post because he refused to park in the “Staff” car park, preferring the visitor and patient parking closer to the door was inspiring.  To have a porter explain that the corridor lights were placed on the walls as ceiling lights made patients on trolleys nauseous was educating. Indeed, the doors in  Circle Bath corridors are undamaged, because the porter does not want to bump them with the trolley.  There’s not “them and us” – everything is “ours”.

    I have every confidence that the great team at Circle Health will turn around the performance at Hinchingbrooke. They will do it by involving people, informing people and listening to them. Of course, time will tell. In many ways this is a great test of employee ownership.  Circle Partnership have a difficult task ahead.  Those who know the business are sure they will succeed.