When we were contacted at the end of 2018 by McCaren Design, an architecture practice based in Plymouth, it was clear that they wanted to introduce employee ownership.
Setting up an employee ownership trust is an increasingly popular route, particularly for owners of SMEs who want to move on or step back, and research shows that employee ownership can materially benefit a business in relation to productivity, loyalty and commitment.
All great stuff. But McCaren - now Studio Skein - wanted to do more than that. They wanted their business to look and "feel" like a co-operative, with those principles hard-wired into how they would work in the future.
We worked with them to achieve that, and their constitution now states very clearly that the "purpose of the Company is to carry out its function as co-operative, and abide by the internationally recognised co-operative values and Co-operative Principles". Those values include self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.
So why does it matter what the constitution says about purpose?
For lawyers, the answer comes in the Companies Act, and what it says about how directors are to make decisions. Directors have a legal duty to make the decisions that will best promote the interests of the shareholders unless the company's constitution makes it clear that the company has another purpose; a different purpose.
That's why it is so important that any business that wants to promote social benefits, to work according to its values, or to do something different and distinctive, makes that aspiration clear in its governing documents. Because then the directors will have the day to day responsibility to make it happen.
A few weeks ago we were very pleased to see the formal launch of Studio Skein's new identity, building on that co-operative ethos. The business has successfully made the transition to employee ownership, but has embedded that distinctive approach into its brand and how it describes its work - "architecture with purpose".
We know from our own research that many businesses are exploring how they might better express their values through how they work. There's never been a better time to marry together your beliefs with how you carry out your business.
Business with purpose. Surely, now is the time.
A Plymouth architect business which switched to employee-ownership two years ago has launched a rebrand to match the business model – and is working closely with the city’s burgeoning co-op economy.