Scotland’s first software business back on track with employee ownership

CASStarted in 1969, Computer Application Services (CAS) Ltd is believed to be Scotland’s first software company.  A spin out from Heriot Watt University, two of the first products were a programme to schedule midwifery training and an application to control cremators – a real cradle to grave enterprise! Now the company has developed an enviable reputation in the niche space of case management and complaint handling.  In 2014, supported by Co-operative Development Scotland, the company became employee-owned.  Like many other employee owned companies, it didn’t start out on that path. Chief Executive, Ken Naismith tells the story.

“ CAS was an okay company with a lot of potential. That potential was not being realized.   It’s fair to say that in recent years, there had been little investment in the business infrastructure and its people.   The previous owners had planned to exit by selling the business to a PLC.  That sale fell through at the eleventh hour.

“I was invited by the chairman to get involved in identifying an alternative succession option.  Employee ownership as a concept always made sense to me – of course people will work harder and enjoy their job better if they own the business.  With the support of Co-operative Development Scotland, we arrived at a structure that gives the company a strong and stable platform for growth.   59% of the business is in broad employee ownership by trust and shareholding; the Chairman and I invested in the remainder of the business.  I plan to reduce my shareholding over time as the company gets on an even keel and this will release more ownership for employees.  We are in a tough, competitive market and our people are now energized and ready to face that head on.

“The employee owners call themselves CAStodians, reflecting their responsibilities to look after and grow the business.    We operate much more openly now.  Information is shared, board minutes are distributed and everyone contributes to our weekly staff meetings.

“We have just produced and distributed our first “Employee Owners Annual Report” which is a comprehensive reflection on our activities last year and our plans and objectives for the next few years.  We did forecast a loss in our first year post buy out, but it was good to report that this loss was much less than we expected.  The forecast for 2015/16 is good.  We have no debt and cash in the bank. There is a number of proposals out for some very lucrative and high profile pieces of business.  We are working on shortening our lead times and up scaling our marketing efforts.

“Our people have to wear two hats; as employees and as shareholders/owners.  We encourage open dialogue; if it’s small get it off your chest, if it’s big, put it on the agenda.

“There’s a palpable sense that the future is in our control now, and everyone has a part to play in making that future as good as it can possibly be.”

You can learn more about how employee ownership has been a catalyst for innovation and growth at CAS Ltd at an event hosted by CDS and CAS Ltd in Edinburgh on Thursday 3 September.

For more information or to register go to: http://bit.ly/1Vh9aUy

 

 

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