This piece was written by Carole Leslie, one of the delegates to the symposium. Where she refers to EO, she is talking about employee ownership. This symposium was generously supported by three organizations and an individual. The Employee Ownership Foundation was our major sponsor and The Menke Group, Prairie Capital Advisors, and Steven Fischer gave significant amounts to make the symposium possible.

60 employee ownership experts from across the globe gathered in London and Oxford over three days to discuss employee ownership. The event was a joint venture between John Hoffmire of Oxford University and the UK’s leading expert on employee ownership, Graeme Nuttall OBE. The wide-ranging agenda covered diverse topics such as valuations, share schemes, the UK EOT vs the US ESOP as a model, EO Design and where EO goes wrong.

Graeme Nuttall kicked off the Oxford segment of the event with a broad view of developments across time and place. He said pre-2012 should be viewed as the pioneering era for employee ownership in the UK. The experience of these “Early adopters” clarified what had to be in place to create a growing, vibrant employee ownership sector. Graeme was largely responsible for the introduction of the Employee Ownership Trust, following the Nuttall Review in 2012. He said that the strength of the EOT models is that it provides a platform for permanent long-term employee ownership.

This was followed by a very interesting discussion on the costs of the EOT transaction, with a comparison between the UK and US. There was a particularly live discussion about what constituted “optional costs” – is employee communication and ongoing education really optional if everyone agrees that this is what makes employee ownership work?

Dr David Erdal and Carole Leslie had the painful task of talking about failures of employee ownership. It was far from a depressing session, with the emphasis being on lessons learned, and how the mistakes in the past now inform the models of the present.

Valuations provided for a very lively session, with the differences in process and compliance in the US and UK being challenged.

Campbell McDonald of think tank Ownership at Work emphasised the need for current and comprehensive data to build an evidence base for employee ownership.

Who would have thought a session titled Precedent Documents and Government Guidance would prove to be the most hotly discussed? Both speakers, Janet Cooper OBE and Rick Pearl of US law firm Faegre Drinker led an engaging debate on a range of relevant topics such as mandatory compliance or light touch legislation.

Dawn Butler, MP and Shadow Equalities Minister and Liberal Peer Baroness Bowles demonstrated an impressive knowledge of employee ownership and a real heartfelt commitment to supporting employee ownership in the UK. Dawn Butler said “If we really want a fairer society and to reduce the grotesque inequalities that exist in our country, then employee ownership must be on the agenda.” Baroness Bowles has been an employee ownership enthusiast for many years and particularly recognised Scotland’s success in encouraging more employee ownership. Scottish Labour Leader sent a statement of support saying “The case for more employee ownership in our economy is clearly demonstrated by the superb employee-owned companies that we see flourishing in Scotland.”

Recent visits to Kidzcare nursery group and Jerba Campervans reinforced for me the benefits of a structure that has proven to be a successful, sustainable structure that allows employees to share in the wealth they create. I would be very interested in reading any output from the Symposium. It’s important to me that Scotland isn’t left behind in promoting employee ownership. The Minister for the Economy in the Welsh Government gave a similarly supportive address by video.

It was a truly groundbreaking event and there are already plans to replicate it next year. Attendees agreed that limiting the numbers allowed for good debate and the calibre of expertise on show meant that there was a lot of learning. It was no mean feat to bring together policymakers, lawyers, share scheme experts, employee ownership experts from the US, Canada, Australia, the Basque Country, Japan, Denmark, Wales, Scotland and England. All agreed it was a superb event.

Carole Leslie, Principal Director of Ownership Associates