FEATURE27 May 2020

In the hands of employees

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Amid the mergers and acquisitions of the last couple of years, a less trumpeted business model has been gaining attention – employee ownership. By Jane Bainbridge.

Hands of employees

For years, the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) has been the go-to example whenever a company eschewing the traditional capitalist business model is cited. As the largest – and best known – company owned by its employees, it has long been heralded as proof that a large business can thrive without the scrutiny of the stock market, venture capitalists or founding directors.

JLP has, for a long time, cut a lonely figure for industrial democracy, but that is starting to change. Over the past couple of years, some other large businesses have chosen to adopt this alternative model as they plan for their future, including Richer Sounds, Aardman Animations and Riverford Organics.

The appeal of an alternative structure reached the market research sector at the start of the year, when BritainThinks announced it was moving to an employee trust model.

So why the attraction for employee ownership (EO)? The Employee Ownership Association (EOA) points to specific benefits – employees tend to be more entrepreneurial ...