Tag: Accord Energy

Employee ownership could be the best thing for your business

SCTRecently, Alan Spence, a founder of hydrocarbon accounting firm Accord Energy Solutions, told us why he was eager to share his thoughts on employee ownership (EO) when he spoke at the National Economic Forum in Dundee last month.

Here, in the second of his two-part feature, Alan discusses how employee ownership and investing in staff has helped his company succeed.

As a company, Accord’s goals are very simple; we want to be a successful business with a long-term future. To achieve this we need to provide our clients with a quality service at a competitive price and we rely on all of our people to ensure this happens.

We pay competitive salaries and provide a good benefits package but we recognise that these things alone won’t necessarily allow us to attract, retain and develop the best people. There has to be something more.

For us, it all starts with knowledge and understanding. Every month we get together for a staff meeting. We meet in the office or join in by conferencing and desk-top sharing. We examine and discuss every aspect of the business.

From admin and IT, through to the monthly management accounts and new business opportunities, we take time to cover it all. I think it’s fair to say that every employee knows enough about the business to understand how we’re performing and why the management team makes the decisions it does.

We also believe our staff should have significant control over their own personal development. Each individual has their own annual training budget (currently £1,800) they can spend on whatever training they feel they need.

For some, the training can be job specific – developing a deeper understanding of a familiar concept or learning about a new technique or process. Others may want to know more about business processes; accounting and finance or benefits and taxation. Not only does this help the employee grow and develop it also benefits the business by increasing our overall capability in so many different ways.

As a company with aspirations for a long-term future and a strong presence in the local community, we believe it’s important to contribute to the community. We do this in two different ways; by sponsoring local sports organisations – such as Garioch Sports Trust, Curl Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire Cricket Club and Ride the North – and by supporting local and national charities that are nominated by employees.

Beyond this, we think it’s important that employees play a major part in the key decisions. Recently our employees determined how bonuses should be paid and they are now in the process of deciding how we develop the company so it meets their current and future aspirations.

We will all be meeting in Aberdeen next month to work through this process together. Our plan is to shape our company in a way that benefits all of us and stands the business in good stead both now and in the future.

Any or all of these things and many more can be done by any company – you don’t have to be employee owned – and will result in improvements across the board. I say this based on my experience in both small local and large multi-national companies, and after hearing first-hand the experience of people like John Reid at Michelin Dundee.

However, when you’re ready to take things beyond this to the next level you may want to consider employee ownership, it could be the best thing you do for your business.

Why Scotland should take Employee Ownership seriously

Sarah Deas 05Co-operative Development Scotland’s (CDS) Advisory Board recently met to explore ways of increasing take up of employee ownership.

CDS is the arm of Scottish Enterprise (SE) that is charged with promoting employee ownership.

Here, Sarah Deas, chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland, explains how they invited policy influencers and membership bodies to join the debate.

In order to bring participants up to speed the features and attributes of employee ownership (EO) were first described. Participants heard how Scott & Fyfe, Tullis Russell, Accord Energy Solutions and Galloway & MacLeod came to choose the model and the resulting benefits. With the exception of Accord, these were all long established family businesses that chose EO as a succession solution. Whilst their experiences differed, there was one common and positive result – long term sustainability of the business and its jobs. This offered a clear demonstration of ‘why we should take the model seriously.’

The benefits described by the participants included securing local employment, driving performance and generating socio-economic well-being. We heard that since 1992, the ‘Employee Ownership Index’ has outperformed the FTSE each year by an average of 10%. Also, EO businesses have a significant presence in the ‘Sunday Times Best Businesses to Work For’ – there are three in the top 10. Clearly the model won’t be appropriate in all cases, however, research shows that on balance it out-performs other models.

Scottish paper and board manufacturer Tullis Russell made the transition to employee ownership in 1994

Scottish paper and board manufacturer Tullis Russell made the transition to employee ownership in 1994

It was acknowledged that there is growing political interest in the model, both within Scotland and across the UK. The Nuttall Review generated 28 recommendations that are currently being taken forward. HM Treasury has committed £50million per annum to incentivise uptake and recently consulted on the best way to use this funding. CDS is promoting the model directly to businesses and via the media and professional advisers. 83 professional practices (lawyers, accountants and bankers) have met with CDS over the last year – and two are now even considering the model themselves!

 We also learned that 73% of Scottish businesses are family owned and account for 50% of private sector employment. However, evidence shows that only 9% progress into third generation family ownership. So, what is happening when the family sells out? Answer: trade sale, management buy-out, employee ownership or insolvency. EO is one of the options – but suffers from being little known and understood. It was acknowledged that the number of businesses being sold has reduced due to the recession – which may lead to what some call the ‘succession time-bomb’. 

So, what more could we be doing to position EO as an effective option?

It was now time to reflect on the wider policy and business environment. Who better to kick off this discussion than respected economist, Jeremy Peat? He described two lenses through which we could look at the economy: GDP (output) and ‘economic well-being’. Jeremy felt that there are signs that economic well-being is becoming more important to the Scottish public: ‘There is a change in tone … and EO is part of this’. 

Jeremy Peat OBE

Economist Jeremy Peat

In reflecting on finance, he worried that there is limited understanding of the model by banks resulting in a lack of mutual empathy. In his view, we need banks to take a longer term perspective, new forms of finance (eg patient, crowd) to be created and for equity investors to appreciate that longer term factors matter. On a positive note, Jeremy felt that this is starting to happen. Overall, he felt that more plurality of business models would be helpful in rebalancing the economy. A ‘let many flowers bloom’ approach.

Guests included representatives of the Institute of Directors, Confederation of British Industry and Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, alongside members of SE’s regional and industry advisory boards. Some shared perceptions of what they had heard. Others focused on the process by which the model could be most effectively introduced to companies. 

Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise account managers were seen as crucial in this process. A focused approach was strongly recommended, enhanced by diagnostic tools and support from ambassadors.  An important message was that EO should be presented as one of the options – cautioning against a ‘one trick pony’ approach.

The rich and wide ranging discussion also explored the employees’ view and the role of unions. The model was shown to work well from all perspectives. In summing up, it was felt that the ‘quick buck era has gone’ and ‘people are increasingly questioning values and priorities’. Employee ownership is a model for ‘sustainable enterprise’ and, as such, has an important role to play.

Success is the common currency of employee ownership…

Carol LeslieEmployee ownership is a business model that reaps rewards for companies home and abroad. Carole Leslie, specialist adviser, Co-perative Development Scotland, reports on her visit to America and why success is the common currency between UK and US employee owned firms.

we the owners

 Here at CDS we’re always keen to cast the net as far and wide as possible when it comes to broadening our understanding of employee ownership. Last month we ran a highly successful series of screenings across Scotland of the powerful film We the Owners: Employees Expanding the American Dream,which interviewed American workers. It cut to the heart of what it means to be an owner in your own business. 

  

I was also fortunate enough to travel to the US recently to take in a conference of employee owned businesses (EOBs) in New England. I was struck by the similarities rather than the differences that exist between British and American models of ownership.

On both sides of the Atlantic, companies owned by their employees are competitive, professionally run, excel in their sector, and operate a form of responsible management with inclusive and transparent governance systems. The result is a more robust and fairer model of business. 

carris reels logoA good example is Carris Reels. Carris Reels designs and manufactures reels and spools for the wire and cable industry, employs 450 staff and has locations across the US and in Mexico.

 

 

BillI met with Bill Carris, who engineered the transition to employee ownership in 2008. Bill’s father started the business in 1951, and Bill grew up in the company, taking over as CEO in 1980. Father and son shared the recognition of the importance of the individual, and of community.

 

 

Bill looked to find ways to involve employees more in the business. He knew that many companies pursued “emotional ownership” but he wanted his employees to have real ownership of the business. He embarked on what became known as the “LTP” or Long Term Plan, which would not only transfer 100 per cent of the ownership to employees but also 100 per cent of the governance.

Carris Reels 2Herein lies the real challenge. Firms who have gone through the transition, whether in UK or US or anywhere else, would agree that getting the technical elements in place is the easier bit of the business transfer process. Attaining true ownership – hearts and minds ownership – is much more difficult. Speaking with some of the employees and seeing the business results left me in no doubt that Carris Reels has been successful in achieving that transformational culture of employee ownership. 

Carris Reels used a three stage process to implement their ownership culture. The first step was to set out the objectives and vision. Bill Carris was quite clear in what he was looking for – total employee governance to fit with total legal ownership.

Carris Reels

The second step was to make this vision real by building the capacity of employee owners to understand what ownership means for them. This included a wide ranging examination of the business goals and how the company is managed.

A thorough education programme was implemented which explained the risks and rewards, company strategy and operation, and the technical details of ESOP operation.

 

The third stage examined the context for employee ownership, ensuring that managers and staff have the appropriate skills to manage and work in a transparent and productive environment. As part of this stage, structures for employee involvement and participation were devised and introduced, as was a systematic process clarifying decision-making responsibilities. Each one of these three stages is constantly assessed, reviewed, revisited and new recruits are fully inducted.  

Carris Reels StaffThis kind of programme might appear daunting and time consuming, but the long term benefits are evident. Indeed, Scottish firms such as Clansman Dynamics and the Keil Centre will testify that doing the spadework in the early stages reaps rewards later on and brings success much more quickly. Getting the legal structures and the tax repercussions resolved are both important; but these are only the start of what is a continual process.

The US experience tells us that legislation to support employee ownership in tangible ways is key if we want to see a step change in growth. However, to achieve that transformational change takes sustained and considered application. In many ways, the technical architecture is just the vehicle.

Achieving true employee ownership takes courage and conviction. But US companies like Carris Reels and native examples like Woollard & Henry and Accord Energy, clearly show the results are positive and far reaching.

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.