Published: January 23, 2020
Margaret Willis, CEO of Unity Trust Bank, explains why she is committed to working with the Employee Ownership Association to help boost the number of employee-owned businesses in the UK and how they are a force for good.
The core purpose of Unity Trust Bank is to lend to organisations which make a positive social, economic and environmental impact and help to create a better society. It is now widely recognised that employee ownership helps to create dynamic and successful businesses which also deliver those vital outcomes.
However, although the employee owned sector is already worth nearly £30 billion and is expanding, according to a recent report “The Ownership Dividend” released by the Employee Ownership Association, more than half of the firms in this growing sector have an unmet need for finance. So, more needs to be done to raise their profile and ensure that they can access finance to grow and succeed.
Financial institutions, business leaders and professional bodies have a critical role to play in helping companies to transition to employee ownership; by gaining a better understanding of those companies’ needs and challenges, by becoming a source of information and guidance, and by shaping financial solutions that meet their needs, as they strive to innovate and grow.
At Unity we have seen first-hand how the opportunity to share in the ownership of the business in which they work, can empower and motivate staff. Empowering people isn’t, however, the only benefit. There is strong evidence to show that employee owned businesses often outperform more conventionally owned competitors, have highly engaged workforces, are more resilient in economic downturns and are strong innovators. Put simply, aligning the interests of employees with those of the firm makes good business sense.
There has been wide coverage in the media of a number of high-profile company founders who have successfully passed on ownership of their business to their employees including high street retailers Richer Sounds and Lush; Wallace and Gromit animators Aardman; travel guide Sawday’s; and farm-to-home deliverers, Riverford Organics.
There are also many maturing businesses, where owner-managers are contemplating stepping back from day-to-day involvement in their businesses and want to secure their future through succession and growth planning. Employee ownership can be a highly effective way to continue their legacy, through empowering people with a vested interest in continuing to drive their company forward.
I am extremely proud to be working with Deb Oxley, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association, to help raise levels of understanding around the benefits of employee ownership and the financial issues for businesses looking to transition to employee ownership; and to help address the barriers faced by these businesses.
My aim is to promote and secure the future of employee owned businesses by highlighting how financial institutions, such as Unity Trust Bank, can be better informed and equipped to provide accessible funding and tailored lending solutions for successful shared ownership models.
If we can amplify this message as a sector and work collaboratively with shareholders and professional bodies to enable a solution, I firmly believe that together we can make a difference.
Don’t miss out on being part of the conversation on this vital economic and societal issue; join Unity Trust Bank on 16 March 2020 at ICAEW Moorgate Place, London for our EOA Finance Symposium. Unity Trust Banks CRO, Martin Coward will be joining the Employee Ownership Association to focus on some of the key issues highlighted above.