2-Day Employee Ownership Learning Journey to Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, 28-29 February 2024

This year’s Employee Ownership Learning Journey was judged a great success.  The route this year took us to Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, visiting and hearing from a number of employee-owned companies from a variety of sectors.

We kicked off in Lanarkshire with an introductory session for the group to get to know one another. The group comprised a number of individuals from companies currently considering whether an employee ownership model would fit with their business, those currently in transition, existing employee-owned companies, and advisers.

We travelled to Linwood for our first visit to guitarguitar.  The award-winning retailer gave us a flavour of their route to employee ownership.  We heard that one of the challenges of the process was informing employees of the plans.  With 6 stores across the UK as well as the Linwood HQ, it was important that the news was delivered simultaneously whilst giving all employees the ability to ask any questions.  The project team decided to issue large screens to all stores, and broadcast the announcement from the Linwood warehouse. By using a clever app which allowed each member of staff to ask questions from their phone, there were over 35 questions raised and answered. The sense at guitarguitar was that although the company very much functioned with an employee-owned ethos, the 

transition had reinforced and reinvigorated the culture within the business; to the extent that improved performance meant the company was able to accelerate payments to the sellers.

Next stop was to Chemco International in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.  The Chemco team showed how the company’s success had enabled the business to expand considerably.  The company’s shareholding comprises a mix of trust and individual employee ownership.  This was seen to be a key motivator and engagement tool for the company.  During our visit we also got to see the magic happen with a demonstration of the company’s waterproof paint coating – which can even be applied underwater!  A particular highlight of this visit was the introduction to Luna, the company well-being dog.

View the Chemco International presentation. presentation

At Chemco, we heard from one of the more recent transitions to employee ownership.  Carolyn Moir Grant had been the majority shareholder of recruitment firm, Allstaff.  Allstaff is approaching its first anniversary as an employee-owned company.  Carolyn explained how the sale to an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) provided the perfect succession solution.  Every member of the close-knit team is essential to the success of the business, and the EOT ensures that every employee has a stake in that success.  Carolyn reported that her clients had reacted very favourably to the news and she had already seen examples of staff members taking more ownership within the business.  

View the Allstaff presentation.

We returned to the hotel for a quick debrief before a delicious dinner. Animated conversations continued, with everyone sharing their perspectives of the first day.  Guest speaker was Dave Routledge, a long term enthusiast for employee ownership.  Dave recounted his experiences across a number of employee-owned firms he had worked with. Controversially, Dave declared himself agnostic about models of employee ownership; his view is that it’s the culture that matters, not the structure. He talked about how high performing employee-owned businesses achieved stellar performance and exceptional employee engagement.

This theme continued into Day 2, where we started with a workshop on ownership culture from Dave. He emphasised the need to have the right leadership in place, stressing that the leadership must “walk the walk” and should have zero tolerance of negativity. He talked about the rain clouds that suck the energy out of organisations telling leaders that it is their job to address that negativity.  Everyone agreed this was a very worthwhile session and could have done with more time.

View the Employee Ownership Culture presentation.

First stop on Day 2’s journey was to Stewart-Buchanan Gauges in Kilsyth.  The company manufactures gauges and valves and became employee-owned in 2011.  MD Derek Rae gave his reflections of working in the company for a year, saying that he would much prefer to work in an employee-owned business than a conventional firm.  He was very honest about the challenges; no company is perfect and being accountable to the people who report to you is a difficult dynamic. Strong communication is key, as well as investing in employees.  Attendees broke into groups for a tour of the factory, and everyone was impressed with the engagement levels and commitment demonstrated across the departments.

View the Stewart-Buchanan Gauges presentation.

We then moved on to Clansman Dynamics which has been employee-owned since 2009. Clansman has been very successful since the move, growing the workforce from 22 to 70 and consistently achieving enviable financial performance. MD Andrew Allan gave some flavour of the company’s history, and described the governance structure and how the share structure allowed individual investment in the business as well as Trust ownership.  He emphasised the importance of the Trustee role in providing accountability and transparency for the company’s leadership.  Andrew described the company’s regular “Pizza Meetings” where all information is shared with staff and they are asked to vote on company plans and initiatives.

View the Clansman Dynamics presentation.

Last visit on our journey was to agricultural feed manufacturer Galloway and Macleod in Stonehouse. We heard from former owner Ralph Macleod who gave his reasons for transferring the family shareholding to the employees, and also from MD Donald Harvey. This is another successful company that has advanced with new technology over the years. The employee trustees were in attendance, and they described their role in assessing the company’s performance and deciding whether the board was successfully delivering value to the employees. 80% of Galloway Macleod employees invest in the business, proving that there are high levels of confidence that the company is on the right track.

View the Galloway and Macleod presentation.

It was then back to the hotel for a wrap up session. Key takeaways were that the event was very worthwhile, with everyone learning something about how employee ownership can be the key to a highly engaged workforce, commercial success and economic health.  The level of honesty and openness shown by the companies visited was remarkable and attendees expressed a wish to stay in touch with others in the group. Indeed, some have already swapped contact details!

Planning is already in place for the next event. Watch this space!

If you know anyone that would be interested in attending, please ask them to email angela.wardrope@scotent.co.uk to register their interest.