Four of the biggest employee-owned companies in the UK

The countdown to Employee Ownership Day continues, and today we’re celebrating by profiling four of the biggest co-owned companies in the UK

By Evie Prosser

Employee ownership may seem like a fairly new idea, but a surprising number of UK companies have embraced the change. That’s because it makes sound business sense and delivers a raft of benefits to the company and the wider economy.

    ...the companies selected share a commitment to valuing staff and customers alike.  

It’s impossible to name all of the UK’s employee-owned companies, but the Employee Ownership Association’s Top 50 is a helpful guide. To give you a flavour of the variety of companies adopting co-ownership, here’s our pick of four of the biggest.

Biggest doesn’t always mean best, of course. But in this case, the companies selected share a commitment to valuing staff and customers alike. They have a long-term and sustainable vision for growth and prosperity. And co-ownership both derives from their corporate ethos and drives it, making them examples from whom every business with an interest in the model can learn.

1. John Lewis

No list of employee-owned companies is complete without John Lewis. It’s the biggest co-owned UK company, and 100pc of its shares are held by staff, which John Lewis calls “Partners”.

The company makes around £3.8bn-worth of sales each year, showing that employee ownership imposes no limits on growth.

The model of co-ownership used by John Lewis is straightforward, and has been a part of its DNA since the start. Partners in the company have a direct say in how it is run, and in its strategic direction. This is achieved through the Partnership Council, which meets four times a year and represents the interests of the whole workforce.

As with any business, John Lewis’s management team is given devolved authority to run things on a day-to-day basis, and to make strategic decisions. But at every turn, they are mindful of the company’s commitment to its people. As its constitution states: “Partners’ happiness, through worthwhile and satisfying employment, is at the heart of everything we do.”

2. Unipart

While most people know that John Lewis is employee owned, not everyone is aware that another household brand is, too.

    Upon privatisation, its staff were given a direct stake in the company’s performance.  

Unipart is a hugely successful company that has reinvented itself several times in order to remain vibrant, dynamic and profitable. It works with a range of top companies to deliver supply-chain management that drives efficiency and enhances the customer experience.

Although the Unipart brand has been around since the 1970s, its current incarnation dates back to 1987. This is the year the company moved into private ownership, with half of the shares being owned by employees.

That ownership structure, along with the vision and energy of its management team, is responsible for Unipart’s enduring success. Upon privatisation, its staff were given a direct stake in the company’s performance. That means they adjusted to new ways of working that may have been resisted had it remained in public ownership or simply transferred to a private company.

3. Arup Group

The story of Ove Arup is inspirational. By 1970, he’d established one of the world’s foremost structural engineering firms and was looking to unite a number of disparate regional practices into one organisation, called The Arup Group.

At the age of 75, Arup wanted to preserve his legacy and empower the next generation. So he took the bold decision of handing ownership of his global business to his employees. The employee-ownership trust continues to own Arup and to drive its values. That gives staff a direct hand in the firm’s running, and a genuine commitment to its success.

More than that, employee ownership sets the ethos for Arup as a values-driven business. As with John Lewis, the vision of its founder remains at the heart of the firm, shaping its identity and empowering staff to keep the legacy alive.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Arup is one of the world’s most successful employee-owned companies, renowned for its ethical approach to design and its commitment to doing the right thing. An inspiration, just like its founder.

4. Mott MacDonald

Mott MacDonald is the second-largest company on the Employee Ownership Association’s top 50. It employs almost 15,000 people in 150 different countries and has been co-owned since 1989.

Like the other business on this list, Mott MacDonald has a strong ethos that is shaped by its commitment to employee ownership. It sees its core enterprises of engineering and management consultancy as means of improving life for the world’s population.

It is also resolutely committed to operating ethically. Every member of staff is required to be familiar with the company’s business ethics policy and it meets a variety of global ethical standards in every aspect of its work.

As with many employee-owned businesses, Mott MacDonald’s core identity is shaped by its ownership structure. It’s a clear example of the connection between co-ownership and Corporate Social Responsibility that goes beyond mere words and helps make the world a better place.

Published: 26 June 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: Just five benefits of employee ownership (to businesses)

You may also enjoy: Business heroes: Ove Arup, Structural Engineer – Shaping the World

Jobs currently available

New job
Warehouse Operator
Sector: Transport, Logistics and Shipping
Salary: To be discussed on application
Location: Sudbury
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910163
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Warehouse Operative on behalf of a company based in Sudbury Suffolk.

Your daily duties will include:

  • Ensuring that the warehouse is kept tidy and organised
  • Unloading and checking of deliveries in
  • Checking in goods
  • Putting away products within the warehouse
  • Picking products as per customer orders
  • Checking orders, ensuring accuracy
  • Packing orders to ensure safety in delivery
  • Loading deliveries
  • On occasions take responsibility for the locking up procedure for the Warehouse/Site

Working hours:

Split shifts: 6.00am – 2.30pm / 2.00pm – 10.30pm

You will have the following skills and experience:

  • Suitable applicants will ideally have current Forklift licences for Counterbalance, Pallet Truck and Flexi
  • Good level of Numeracy and Literacy
  • Intermediate PC skills
  • Preferred NVQ Level 2 Warehousing or equivalent
  • Prior knowledge of Warehouse Management Systems
Read more
Equity Release Advisor
Sector: Accountancy, Banking and Finance
Salary: Discussed on application
Location: Needham Market
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910156
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for an Equity Release Advisor to join an established company based in Needham Market.

Operating for over 20 years, our client has a great reputation in the local area. They are looking to take on someone with a real hunger to succeed within the industry.

  • A CeMAP / Equity Release qualification
  • Experience within mortgage broking or Equity Release
  • Great communication skills
  • A detail-oriented nature
  • Experience of dealing with clients, both in-person and over the phone
  • Strong market awareness
  • Great knowledge of Microsoft packages and be generally computer literate

In return, you will receive a competitive base salary plus commission.

Please get in touch if you would like to be considered for this exciting new opportunity.

Read more
Mortgage Advisor
Sector: Accountancy, Banking and Finance
Salary: Discussed on application
Location: Needham Market
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910155
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Mortgage Advisor to join an established mortgage company based in Needham Market.

Operating for over 20 years, our client has a great reputation in the local area. They are looking to take on someone with a real hunger to succeed within the industry.

You will have:

  • A CeMAP qualification (happy to consider newly qualified applicants)
  • Experience within mortgage broking or financial services
  • Great communication skills
  • A detail-oriented nature
  • Experience of dealing with clients, both in-person and over the phone
  • Strong market awareness
  • Great knowledge of Microsoft packages and be generally computer literate

In return, you will receive a competitive base salary plus commission.

Please get in touch if you would like to be considered for this exciting new opportunity.

Read more
Technical Assistant
Sector: Marketing, Advertising and PR
Salary: £21,000 - £22,000 per annum
Location: Halstead
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 909828
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Technical Assistant on behalf of a company based in Halstead, Essex.

Your duties will include:

  • Ensure finished product specifications are completed and correct, meeting legal and customer requirements.
  • Reviewing and approving artwork for new and existing product development.
  • Liaising with NPD and commercial/marketing for new product information.
  • Conducting internal audits against the quality management system.
  • Responsible for dealing with all Trade Complaints in a professional and timely manner.
  • Responsible for label creation and making sure the label system is kept up to date.
  • Completing customer documentation as required.
  • Dealing with various technical tasks on an ad-hoc basis.

Working Monday to Friday, 7.30am - 4.30pm.
Free parking.

Read more
Junior Web Developer
Sector: Media and Internet
Salary: Discussed at application
Location: Colchester
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910116
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Junior Web Developer on behalf of a company based in Colchester.

The purpose of this role is to support in the building of email templates, landing pages, micro-sites and any other digital projects as well as testing work produced by the Development team. You will be producing high-quality code as part of a team and as an individual.

You will ideally have one year’s experience in a development environment with basic level practical knowledge of HTML, CSS and jQuery. Having an understanding of JavaScript, PHP and MySQL would be beneficial.

Job responsibilities:

  • Support the Development team in the build of email templates, landing pages and micro-sites.
  • Front-end development across multiple devices, browsers and operating systems.
  • Fixing known bugs in front-end projects.
  • Help plan and timescale future projects as well as contribute with ideas for future client projects.
  • Keep up to date with web development, design trends and technologies.
  • Quality assurance functionality testing on websites, landing pages, email templates, web applications and apps built by the Development team. Includes front-end cross browser testing and back-end functionality testing.
Read more