Architects Embrace Employee Ownership
Back in 2019 I said ‘Employee Ownership’ was going mainstream and that architect firms were leading the charge. Three years and one pandemic later, how does my analysis look?
Well, during 2021 Postlethwaite successfully guided 28 businesses to employee ownership, seven of which were architect firms, so I’d say I was pretty spot on!
Why do architects seem to be leading the way?
A leading factor is cultural: most architect practices rely heavily on collaborative working, requiring a strong culture of working together towards a tangible shared purpose. Employee ownership offers a natural fit with that type of working style.
It also reflects that many architects have strong values, choosing this profession to create beautiful buildings, increasingly with a focus on sustainability. Employee ownership enables architects to feel they have a voice.
This is not unique to architects however. Business culture across the piece is quickly evolving, leadership styles tending (with occasional exceptions) to be less about ‘command and control’ and more about fostering and encouraging everyone in an organisation to make the strongest contribution they possibly can. Nurturing and empowering staff to have a say. But architects are in the vanguard. This way of working simply feels a naturally better way of doing business.
Combine that with a recognition that everyone’s contribution should be reflected by sharing rewards more widely, and you have a form of ownership well attuned to the needs of many modern firms and their people.
Many architect practices face an additional practical challenge. It is often hard to identify new partners who are both willing and able to financially invest in taking over the ownership from current owners, and here employee ownership offers a solution.
For those practices considering employee ownership, know how and expertise is in good supply. There is now a wealth of information on employee ownership and a wide support network for those starting out on this journey. This gives more businesses the confidence to dip their toes into the ‘employee ownership world’, gathering the information they need, learning from others and deciding whether it is right for them.
Icing on the cake
And lastly there are the tax breaks, in particular employee-owned companies being able to pay their employees income tax free annual bonuses and a full exemption from capital gains tax for owners who transfer their firm to employee ownership. This should be seen as the icing on the cake when becoming employee owned and we would not recommend it as the driving factor.
Long term commitment
Just before finishing, a reality check. Employee ownership is never a panacea and for it to work as well as possible requires a big and long term commitment from everyone in the business. For some companies it won’t be the right solution. And some architect practices may still thrive on different models of ownership.
Written by Founder and Managing Director, Robert Postlethwaite
Case study of employee-owned architect firm, Orms with video interview with company Director, Oliver Richards on becoming employee owned available here.
Find out more on Employee Ownership here.