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Employee ownership, one year on

When I first asked our staff about employee ownership in 2003, with the suggestion that it could be financed by them forgoing their annual profit share for 20 years, they told me where I could stick it. Perhaps they saved us from another Animal Farm.

Soulful musings among the cabbages rarely prove good guidance for business practice. Ideas for radical change need to be challenged, rethought, and challenged again to avoid the dangers that come with all ideological dogma.

We spent the intervening years, and particularly the last four, researching, consulting and challenging each other – until we were sure what we wanted and why, understood the gulf we needed to cross to get there, and had planned how to cross it. Particular credit goes to our people director Charlotte Tickle, managing director Rob Haward, co-owner council and external trustees, who methodically developed the governance and culture to turn my dreams into a working reality.

On June 8th 2018, Riverford became 74 per cent employee owned. It was the happiest and proudest day of my life. As one co-owner councillor, Scott, said: we are creating a microcosm of the world we’ve always wanted to live in.

The last year has shown what an incredible job we made of such a massive and challenging transition. I see it on the faces of co-owners every day; I hear it in the engagement, pride and dignity that comes with being able to influence your own daily life and destiny, and share in the spoils of your work; I see it in the personal, often challenging, growth that many co-owners have undertaken, sometimes surprising themselves.

So far there is no sign of unduly cumbersome consultative decision-making, with the newly empowered showing an extraordinary responsibility that shames Philip Green. More tangibly, our sales, cost controls and margins have never been better, providing evidence for my long-held belief that conventional ownership, and the cynical management that too often accompanies it, wastes huge amounts of human potential. 

The biggest gain has been in IT. After years of being driven to distraction by underperforming external consultants, we now have our own team who deliver projects that work, on time and on budget, while being a joy to work with. Their latest brainchild, our new app (free on the app store and Google Play) is brilliant - even I find it easy to use.           

Comments

theplodder

2 Months 1 Week

Congratulations on your anniversary. It is good to hear that, amongst other things, your IT provision is improving. Can I suggest a simple addition to your Wicked Leeks online magazine? Please add an rss feed so your readers can receive your stories on a regular basis without clogging up their, undoubtedly over-stuffed, email inboxes.

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Guy Singh-Watson

Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

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