Organic fruit and veg box company, Riverford, will become completely owned by its staff after the owner sold his 23% stake in the company for just under £10m.
Guy Singh-Watson had previously sold the majority of his company to staff in 2018 for £6m. However, rather than having the staff buy the stake in the company themselves, the online retailer took a loan out to pay out Singh-Watson.
A trust has been set up on behalf of the 900 staff who work for Riverford. And no matter what level the employee works at in the business, every employee receives an equal share of the profits and has a say in the running of the business.
Whilst Singh-Watson has given up ownership of the business he still intends to stay on as a trustee and spokesperson. The 63-year-old isn’t ready to retire either, however, he expressed the opinion that sometimes business founders can hang around longer than necessary, and wanted to leave before that happened!
“Founders can hang around too long, and I don’t want to be that person who needs to be told to go.”
Rather than taking the money and retiring on a beach, Singh-Watson decided instead to invest some of the money in solar power and agroforestry on his farms in Devon and France. He has also contributed some of his payout to the charity Ripple Effect amongst others. And unlike many multi-millionaires, he wants to pay his dues to society:
“I’ve not set up trusts to avoid tax, even though much of the money will end up supporting charitable projects. I will pay my tax as others who can’t afford creative accountants do, and I strongly support the idea of a wealth tax,” he told The Guardian.
Whilst employee-owned businesses are unusual, they are on the rise- there are currently more than 1400 employee-owned businesses, employeeownership.co.uk reports.
At least one company a day becomes employee-owned, according to Professor Andrew Robinson from Leeds university. In June 2023, employee-owned businesses had increased by 37% from the year before.
There are many reasons why companies move to this business model, which include ‘promot[ing] the livelihoods of employees, and businesses wishing to be more sustainable with better impacts for people and the environment.’