2019 Q&A: Deb Oxley of the EOA

Chief executive of Employee Ownership Association

How was 2019 for the Employee Ownership Association and the employee ownership sector in general?

In 2019, as the EOA celebrated its 40-year anniversary, we saw the sector start to gather momentum.

Employee ownership in the UK grew by 18% from June 2018 to 2019 when the White Rose Survey reported 370 businesses in the sector – this now exceeds 400.

And while growth in the sector sees SMEs and family businesses remain dominant, statistics from the Top 50 Employee Owned Businesses illustrate that larger businesses are also making the move – with the number
of employees needed to qualify for the Top 50 increasing to 403 in 2019 from 143 in 2014.  

A highlight during this record year for transitions was the media reaction to the news of Richer Sounds becoming employee owned in May – a blanket endorsement of EO across broadsheet and tabloid publications totalling 56 pieces of coverage. 

Sector growth saw the membership grow to over 400 and the team grow to 10 people.

How did the EOA make a difference in 2019?

 In 2019 we connected more than 2,200 people from our membership to exchange knowledge, learn and network at our EOA regional networks and events, including our sell-out conference with 720 attendees. While our first full member survey gave us a strong base from which to plan future services – including learning packages – with a Net Promoter score of 45.4 and an average score of 8.4 out of 10.

Our work to champion employee ownership with our members resulted in 256 pieces of coverage, reached 1.25 million Twitter accounts with 3.3 million impressions for EO Day 2019 and announce five winners
and 10 highly commended in the UK Employee Ownership Awards.

Working with partners including the ICAEW, FSB and IFB we have increased awareness of EO with business owners and advisors and finance providers who could support employee ownership succession. Plus, we have developed the #1MillionOwners campaign in partnership with Co-operatives UK to influence government to back policy and a programme to increase the awareness and growth of employee and worker ownership in the regions.

 What challenges do you see coming in 2020 and how is the EOA preparing for them?

We have planned for 2020 against the backdrop of prolonged uncertainty, politically and economically, and as a new government forms there will still be a number of burning issues to address that will affect how businesses choose to act – ranging from whether they spend money on membership to what they decide to follow as a succession plan.

Whatever the situation, we are committed to continuing our momentum by growing our ways to connect our members with the things they need to continue to be successful. We will be working with our members to champion employee ownership to help the model become more respected, and campaigning smarter and harder to support EO to become more widespread. We’ll be influencing MPs and those with Westminster positions as well as strengthening our partnerships that support us to raise awareness and share knowledge with key audiences. We will continue to build the links between employee ownership and the future of work.