The annual Employee Ownership Association (EOA) dinner is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the social calendar in the world of employee ownership. Held for the last few years at the Palace of Westminster and attended by many of the great and good from the sector, its always an enjoyable evening. And this year’s annual dinner, which took place last week, was no exception.
There was a palpable sense of network at the pre-dinner drinks. Noise levels must have matched those at Prime Minister’s Questions as acquaintances re-connected and links were forged. I was reminded about some of the things I like so much about the employee-owned sector: its friendliness, the openness and willingness to share experience and its supportive nature.
The dinner itself was punctuated by a much anticipated key-note from Lord Mark Price. Formerly the deputy Chairman of the largest UK employee-owned business John Lewis, Lord Price was recently appointed as Minister of State for Trade and Investment at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so had an interesting dual perspective on the world of employee ownership.
Lord Price’s focus was a topic that’s clearly dear to his heart: inclusive capitalism. He spoke passionately about business being a force for good in society and cited employee ownership as a corporate model that is naturally supportive of a more inclusive culture. And there was inevitably, a secondary focus on Brexit and the complexities of unravelling the UK’s relationship with the EU.
Later in the evening, Deb Oxley, CEO of the EOA, took centre stage and set out her vision for the growth of the sector. One of the perceived blockages that prevents more businesses moving to an employee-owned model is the sheer lack of awareness that exists in some areas of the market. Deb called for accountancy firms and lenders to engage employee ownership experts to ensure their clients get rounded advice. And she insisted too that an awareness of employee ownership as a business model should form part of relevant higher education and further education courses. Which all serves to bring the employee ownership sector into a more mainstream space, where those of those of us familiar with it feel it ought to be.