The Employee Ownership Association held its annual conference in Nottingham last month, with over 500 delegates attending.
Here, CDS specialist adviser Glen Dott takes a look back at the event and recounts some of the highlights.
This year CDS took seven clients to the Employee Ownership Association Conference. No sightings of Robin Hood – or even a forest – but it was a great learning experience for those considering employee ownership. Who better to ask than those who have ‘been there done that’? With over 500 delegates in attendance there were plenty of ‘doers’ and our contingent had a number of networking possibilities.
On the Monday evening we attended the Philip Baxendale Awards, where ‘the best employee-owned organisations are recognised in a tremendous celebration of excellence’. From a Scottish perspective, Page\Park Architects was Highly Commended as an Employee Ownership Rising Star while Fred Bowden Snr, chairman of Tullis Russell was awarded the The Philip Baxendale Fellowship for his outstanding contribution to employee ownership.
Iain Hasdell, chief executive of the EOA, welcomed us to the conference and illustrated how far employee ownership has come in a relatively short time. The icing on the cake for ‘Team EO’ in 2014 has been the tax breaks afforded to owners selling into Employee Ownership Trusts (EOTs) and the tax-free bonuses now payable to employees of EOT-controlled businesses. In Scotland we are already seeing the fruits of this legislation with EOTs in operation at Mike Stoane Lighting and David Narro Associates and more deals in the pipeline.
Two strands of sessions followed for ‘newbies’ and those already in employee ownership. In between, we took the opportunity to link up our guests with relevant advisers and like-minded businesses, before keynote speaker Mike Thompson of Childbase explained why his company is moving to a Trust-only model. Surprisingly, external investors currently share most of the profits but a deal has been struck where an employee trust will buy out external investors and also the founding family. The primary advantage will be that future profits will be shared exclusively by employee owners via the recently introduced tax-free bonus.
The conference came to an end with John Lupton of 150-year old Tayport firm Scott & Fyfe telling us of their remarkable transition from family-owned jute business to a modern, outward looking, innovation led employee-owned industrial textile manufacturer.
This story illustrates that Scotland has much to be proud of and we certainly lead the UK charge in adoption of the EO model. We have every reason to believe our clients will join the employee ownership fold and we aim to bring an even bigger contingent next year.