Tag Archives: Dennis Overton

Employee ownership – the key to a stronger Highland economy?

AquaScot Dennis Overton 94Earlier this month, Alness-based sustainable seafood company Aquascot opened its doors to the local business community for a ‘Successful Succession’ event jointly hosted with Co-operative Development Scotland.

Here, Aquascot chairman Dennis Overton reflects on the day and the company’s experience of employee ownership.

With 185 employees operating from two sites in the town, Aquascot is currently 85 per cent employee-owned and is set to complete the transition to 100 per cent employee ownership by 2017. As an enterprise, we have a 12 per cent share of the UK’s ‘ready to cook’ salmon market.

On 3 July – Employee Ownership Day – we welcomed employee owners, local business people and local MSP, Rob Gibson to our premises. We focused on how employee ownership has been a successful model for Aquascot, and how it can make a significant contribution to economic growth.

I believe the UK economy would be in a much healthier position if there were more employee-owned companies. At present, I feel we are overly focused on short-term gain to the detriment of long-term value creation.

Employee-owned firms are different. In ‘conventional’ businesses there is often disconnect between shareholders and the company they part own. This can be because shareholders have different, and often more immediate, objectives than the people inside the company who have its long-term success at heart.

In an employee-owned company, the employees control the shares. They are more likely to be concerned about the longevity of the business and know that innovation, productivity and profitability are key to achieving that. Indeed, as Aquascot partner Donald Beaton put it so articulately: “This isn’t just about creating good jobs for us, it’s about jobs being there for our children and their children.”

In the Highlands, succession is a concern. In a survey we conducted in 2005, we looked at what happens to non-family, first generation businesses when it comes to considering succession. The findings were not encouraging:

  • There were few independent businesses of any scale in the Highlands
  • The most common form of exit was a trade sale to a buyer out with the region
  • In the majority of cases , the acquired company no longer had a presence in the Highlands after five years

When our founders came to consider Aquascot’s future, they knew that the final decision had to consider the contribution made by its employees. We have exceptional staff and they have made the company the success it is today.

By selling to employees, our founders have enabled this success to continue, and Aquascot will remain in Alness providing jobs and opportunities for years to come.

Friday’s event encouraged several businesses to explore employee ownership more closely, and with Aquascot as an example, this can only be good news for the local economy and the people of the Highlands.

The route to a successful succession – part one

The second of our “What’s Next” events in our Successful Succession programme, was hosted by Aquascot in Alness. 

One local business owner currently considering a succession strategy for his business attended to see how employee ownership may work. Here, he sums up his thoughts from the day. 

I’m interested in ways to make our business more sustainable for the long term and provide an eventual exit solution for the current shareholders.  As a business, we are constantly looking at ways to improve and reviewing our ownership structure is part of that.

I’d like to find a model that rewards and engages our staff for the contribution they make to the success of the business. I’m intrigued at how businesses owned by their employees appear to achieve much higher levels of staff engagement and productivity improvements.

???????????????????????

Our Scottish Enterprise account manager drew my attention to a programme run by Co-operative Development Scotland, which is showcasing employee owned firms around Scotland. I attended two events and found they greatly helped my thinking.

The first visit was to Galloway & MacLeod, who manufacture and sell agricultural feed. This is an impressive business.  It is innovative, high tech, and focused on growth.  A family firm, and significant employer in the area, a trade sale would have meant a likely relocation.

Selling to the employees means the business stays where it is, providing opportunities for local people.  The honesty was refreshing; they admitted that initially share uptake was low, but had now reached over 90%.

aquascot

The Aquascot visit was thought provoking.  This is an innovative company, very grounded in their values.  They strive to be a great place to work – and aim to have fun while “doing the right thing well”.  The MD, Dennis Overton, admitted a trade sale would have been quicker, simpler and easier, but did not fit with the strong partnership ethos.

It was good to hear the bankers who attended stress they are quite comfortable with employee owned business models; succession management is critically important, if the management team disappear, the business is exposed.  Employee ownership is a solution that promotes continuity.

Our EO journey – Aquascot

In the latest CDS video blog, sustainable seafood business Aquascot reveal the benefits employee ownership has brought them.

Aquascot is hosting an employee ownership event in conjuction with CDS in Alness, Invernesshire on June 4. To attend the free event, click here.

Seafood Producer Serves Up Food For Thought…

Angela Wardrope hi resScotland has a thriving food and drink sector. Employee owned companies like seafood producers Aquascot are reaping the rewards of co-operation.

Angela Wardrope, project manager, Co-operative Development Scotland, shadowed Aquascot’s Dennis Overton when he went before the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Food.

 

I had the opportunity to hear Employee Ownership Ambassador Dennis Overton from Aquascot address the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Food in January. The experience provided an insight into Aquascot’s journey towards employee ownership and a fascinating bird’s eye view of Scotland’s food and drink sector. It got me thinking about the bigger role co-operation could play in this industry. AquaScot Dennis Overton 94

Aquascot is based in Alness and takes its inspiration from the 1920 pioneering profit sharing model of employee ownership set up by John Spedan Lewis. The seafood producing firm began its journey towards employee ownership in 2008, which it will complete 2016. 

AquaScot 02In 2008 the main driver was to sustain and grow the business for the future. The potential was huge: a strong team, accelerating health drivers, expertise in aquaculture and strong market demands. A business owned by the employees was the only solution to create long term value in a fairly remote part of Scotland.

Now, four years later turnover has reached £29m and total staff numbers are up to a healthy 135. Aquascot is also benefiting from a reduction in absenteeism and leaving rates – half that of the sector average. Staff are twice as productive as the sector average and feel they can bring forward ideas that are listened to and implemented.

AquaScot 05So what is the wider potential for this model in Scotland’s food and drink sector? The industry is made up of lots of micro-businesses, a few large family businesses such as Tunnock’s and Mackies and a few giants like Devro. The industry also has plenty of first generation entrepreneurs, who in my view would be a great fit for employee ownership. The challenge is how we ensure other companies take inspiration from the benefits enjoyed by Aquascot, and think about employee ownership themselves.

But back to our parliamentarians. A good debate took place amongst Cross Party Group members following Dennis’s address. They wanted to hear more about the risks when changing ownership structure and how businesses adapt to this change. Dennis responded by pointing out the difference between ownership and management. He conceded the transition process can add complexity to the mix, but a well run business is a well run business, irrespective of the ownership structure. 

A question was also raised around ‘co-opetition’, when businesses co-operate with competitors. At Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), we are seeing a strong appetite for this. Especially where there is an opportunity for businesses to collaborate to help a sector grow.

For example Food from Argyll is a consortium of nine food producers that came together to sell their produce at events under its singular banner. Overall, the members all saw the co-operative as an opportunity to get into a market that would be really hard to crack on their own. A consortium co-operative allows single businesses to pool their resources in this way without compromising their independence as singular entities. They look at the bigger picture and will reap the benefits as a consequence. 

Best of Food Argyll 2So did the Cross Party Group members feel that co-operative business models were a good fit for Scotland’s food and drink businesses? Overall, there was a feeling that any form of co-operation would be beneficial. And that much more needed to be done to promote collaboration for the benefit of the sector.

CDS supports all businesses in Scotland, irrespective of sector or size. If you like the sound of accessing bigger markets through co-operation we can help you. We have produced a short paper on Scotland’s food and drink sector, so if you want to read more see: Co-operate for growth; Growing Scotland’s food and drink sector.

Co-operative Development Scotland is a Scottish Enterprise subsidiary, established to help companies grow by setting up consortium, employee-owned and community businesses. It works in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.