Austen and Michele Kopley, former owners of a majority stake in Royal Warrant holding company Barnard & Westwood, dedicated many years to developing and growing their printing and book-binding business.
Why employee ownership?
As the company approached it’s centenary, Emma Wise met with Austen, managing director, as he explored ways he could pass on the company whilst protecting both the loyal and experienced team of employees and the integrity of the business nurtured over several generations that had created and sustained a hugely successful brand.
Employee ownership rapidly emerged as the preferred option. Seeing inspirational role models in employee-owned companies such as the John Lewis Partnership and Divine Chocolate, Austen identified the benefits that employee ownership can offer a niche business like Barnard & Westwood. Austen notes:
“Employee-owned businesses tend to be more resilient, have more engaged employees and take a longer term approach to business decisions. These were important factors in our decision to choose employee ownership for Barnard & Westwood.”
Emma and the Postlethwaite team worked with the company through its rapid transition to full employee ownership; the whole process took a little over four months, which is testament to Austen’s drive and determination. Austen felt very strongly that under the new ownership structure, his loyal staff should be financially rewarded for their commitment to the firm and also have an impact on the company’s strategy.
How does it work?
Both objectives have been achieved; the new ownership structure means that profits of the company are shared between all employees, and the board now reports to a body of trustees, which represents the interests of the employees and contains two elected employee members.
Whilst the ownership structure of the company behind the scenes has altered, the day-to-day running of the company remains unchanged as does its high-end, bespoke output. The team now being more involved in the company’s governance, through the employee trustees, has created a tangible buzz in this workplace where cutting edge and traditional methods sit comfortably alongside one another.
And their customers?
Part of the company’s transition experience involved its customers, with Austen keen to reassure them that the change to an employee-owned structure would not adversely impact service levels. He says:
“It was important that customers understood that, as far as they were concerned, nothing would change. They would continue to deal with the same people, with the same exceptional high standards, delivering the same bespoke products they were used to.” Austen adds: “The reaction from our main customers has been extremely positive and very encouraging.”
Austen concludes: “I feel we have put in place a structure that will help to guarantee the legacy of Barnard & Westwood.”
We wonder how many other family business owners can say the same about their business succession plans?
If you would like to explore how employee ownership or an employee share scheme might be introduced in your company, please contact us for an initial discussion.
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