Sussex law firm Bennett Oakley is now owned by its employees, with 100% of the business owned by an Employee Ownership Trust. It joins a growing number of organisations turning their employees into custodians of the business for future generations.
Bennett Oakley, which has offices in Brighton, Burgess Hill, Hassocks and London, is the first law firm in Sussex to become employee owned. Although employee ownership is growing in the UK, it is still rare in the legal sector, where the firms that are becoming employee owned tend not to move to full employee ownership like Bennett Oakley.
“Employee ownership is about looking after our existing employees and attracting the best talent to work for us. Becoming employee owned means our people now have a direct stake and say in the business,” says Simon Elliott, Bennett Oakley’s Managing Director. “Law firms tend to be very hierarchical with profits being shared among partners and everyone else having very little input into the operations or strategy of the business. Moving to employee ownership means that our people will take an equal share of our profits and will have a direct say in the business through our Employee Ownership Trust.”
Simon Elliott, who previously owned the business, is retiring and the leadership team which has been in place for the last 12 months will take Bennett Oakley forward. Sarah Rowland becomes Bennett Oakley’s CEO; James Leighton becomes Managing Director and COLP and Samuel Cash becomes Operations Director and COFA.
“I’m leaving the firm in a very strong position,” says Simon Elliott. “When I started thinking about retirement, employee ownership was the obvious choice. I have seen how hard everyone has worked around me, and I owed it to them to preserve the business. Employee ownership avoids the risk of redundancies or cultural changes that a trade sale would bring and secures the business for the future.”
Bennett Oakley has 25 employees, who have all become employee owners and will enjoy an equal share of the firm’s profits annually. New recruits will be eligible to become employee owners after working for the firm for 12 months.
Looking to the future Sarah Rowland, Bennett Oakley’s CEO says: “This is an exciting time for Bennett Oakley and we’re looking forward to what lies ahead for the firm. We will build on the reputation and excellent service we are known for and introduce new service lines as we grow. Employee ownership will be instrumental, as it will help us attract even more great people to work here.”
Employee ownership is one of the fastest growing business succession solutions in the UK, where there are now more than 1,000 employee-owned businesses, with the sector more than doubling in the past three years.
The fast pace of growth amongst businesses has taken off with the use of the employee ownership trust (EOT), introduced by the government in 2014 to encourage long-term employee ownership, and one in every 20 private company sales is now to an EOT, with Bennett Oakley joining a network of EOTs in the UK that include Richer Sounds and Go Ape.
James de le Vingne, Chief Executive of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), said: “We congratulate our members Bennett Oakley on its transition to employee ownership; securing the ethos, values, and culture of the business, as well as rooting jobs in Sussex.
“Businesses that give employees a stake and a say build trust and shared responsibility, uniting leaders and employees behind a common purpose, and leaving businesses in a better position to flex and adapt.”
According to the Employee Ownership Association, companies that are employee owned, or who have a large and significant employee ownership stake, now contribute £30 billion to the UK’s GDP. They are also on average far more productive and profitable than those that aren’t and have much higher levels of both employee and customer satisfaction.
Bennett Oakley was advised by Christian Wilson, specialist in the legal issues surrounding Employee Ownership Trusts and partner with Spencer West and the tax team from Cardens Accountants.