Gripple, a Sheffield-based manufacturer of wire joiners and suspension systems with 700 staff, has been fully employee owned since 2011, although employees were first allowed to buy shares in the business back in 1994.
The organisation uses a direct ownership rather than a trust model, with governance, management and oversight managed through a standalone employee ownership company called Glide.
What this means, explains Michael Hodgson, currently Gripple communications manager but Glide chairman from April, is that employees agree to buy a minimum of £1,000 worth of shares once they have been employed for a year. Through an agreement with a local credit union, this investment can be paid back at as little as £25 a month.
Given the scheme is well established, making the ‘business case’ is mostly about making sure there is clear, ongoing education and communication about how it all works, he emphasises.
“We have a full induction for people, and part of that is a session on Glide. We give people a lot of information when it comes up to their anniversary to buy shares. Technically, after two years, [they] can cash shares in, although [they] have to retain a minimum £1,000 stake. We have a share transfer committee and can facilitate the buying and selling of shares; we have four windows in the year when people can buy shares. Employees also receive a dividend payout each quarter based on the profitability of the business,” Hodgson explains.
“But we do encourage people to see this as a long-term investment and incentive, and not an opportunity to make a quick buck. We’ve had plenty of instances where people have come along and said, ‘I want to buy my first house, I need a deposit, I’d like to cash out a portion of my shares’, which is a great example of how our people can realise the financial benefits of employee ownership,” he adds.
Another selling point is the fact that being employee owned has had a positive impact on retention, performance and productivity, points out Katrina Ritchie, people and culture director. This, in turn, has allowed Gripple to offer a wide range of other benefits, such as a 15% non-contributory pension, private healthcare, and financial rewards for 100% attendance.
“As owners in the business, employees are engaged and have a sense of shared responsibility. If we employ people who share our values and who therefore really engage with and buy into our culture, who are able to live and breathe what we call the ‘Gripple spirit’, they tend to stay,” she says.