A Bristol-based financial planning firm believes being an employee-owned business has helped it weather the pandemic and emerge stronger.
Next month, Ovation Finance celebrates four years since the transition to employee ownership.
The transition became a reality when founder Chris Budd sold the majority of company shares to an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), after seeking advice from the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) and its members .
As chairman and minority shareholder, and with the initial stock purchase payment process underway but ahead of schedule, Budd is still involved in the company.
However, it is largely there as a sounding board and takes more of a consultancy approach, with an emphasis on employee owners playing a key role in deciding the direction of the business.
Director Tom Morris believes that empowering staff through employee ownership has helped “really unify” them when times have been tough, and has also proven a unique selling point for Ovation when it’s ” sitting in front of customers.
“Employee ownership provided autonomy that gave meaning to what our staff did in their jobs,” he said. “I think when it really came to the fore was when the pandemic hit, there was very little encouragement needed.
“When it happened everyone just made sure the business was able to run. It took very little oversight or prompting, it was pretty remarkable and I wonder if part of that is that it’s our business, we want to make it work.”
He noted that 2020 “has been a tough year for everyone and we’ve managed to stay pretty much where we were in 2019 and then we’ve managed to kick off in 2021.”
“Since becoming employee-owned, profits have increased and we have steadily grown the business,” Morris said. “Part of that is due to the strong business we’ve built over the past 18 years, but employee ownership has certainly not hurt it.
“It’s nice to sit across from a client – and a lot of our clients that we could work with for decades – and say ‘you know what, every one of these people on the team, he’s in their interest in making this work for you and giving you the best possible service,” and, when I am gone, someone will be there to take over and that is a very nice message to pass on to them.”
Creative operations leader Tammy Devonald, the employee administrator who speaks to staff to ensure their voices are heard and brought to the board, added: “The pandemic has been one of the points where we understood the responsibility of being an employee-owned company and we were working for each other, so we wanted to do our best.
“We may have been working from home, but we were still working together and it was a really unifying time.”
She added: “Ovation was already a good company to begin with, but now the employees have a little more power, a little more say in their future and in the company, and that’s great.”
Looking back, Morris thinks the move to employee ownership was a “very positive experience”, adding: “It’s hard to remember what it was like before now, to be honest”.