When the EOA first proposed the idea of an employee ownership summit to BIS back in early 2011, we were pleased at the warm reception. We discussed with BIS officials the format, the content and whether there was any possibility of a Government Minister making a key note speech. The objective was to raise the profile of employee ownership as a business model and encourage more business owners to consider this as part of their exit strategy. How many attendees could we expect? We guessed 60. Employee ownership is a topic which elicits positive noises yet not one that’s widely understood or adopted. Yes, it’s a good business model with lots of stellar examples. But it was still a secret. The challenge was in encouraging business leaders to give up half a day to attend a meeting on something they would be barely aware of. It would be even more difficult to attract advisers e.g. accountants and lawyers to take time off from fee earning to attend..
July 4th 2012 was the turning point. A summit meeting, held in the City of London, hosted by the Institute for Chartered Accountants of England and Wales launched the Nuttall report on employee ownership. There were more than 200 attendees – from employee owned businesses, from the professions, from financial institutions, from the unions. The event was chaired by BIS Minister, Norman Lamb and attended by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg and Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude. All three ministers mixed with guests and participated in table discussions. The Department of Business Innovation and Skills did a superb job of organising what was a landmark event. There was media interest across the globe, with column inches in all of the major publications and widespread broadcast reporting. ”I wish we had a Norman Lamb here” said one of my employee ownership contacts in the States.
The difference a year makes. In the past year, we have seen a surge of interest in finding new ways of doing business. Tired of the short termism fostered by external shareholders, the unfairness of disproportionate executive pay, the general disenchantment that exists in our traditional commercial world have all created a fertile ground for finding a better way.
Employee ownership has always had cross party political support but few vocal champions. Norman Lamb, in his short tenure to date, has made things happen. The Nuttall report will be read with interest, and there is commitment to act upon the recommendations. The Treasury review into the fiscal landscape surrounding employee ownership is due to report in the Autumn.
The 4th July Summit is only the start. The time for employee ownership has come.