Itec Training Solutions (Holdings) Ltd is a Cardiff based training business which was formed in 2007. By February 2019, when it became employee owned, it had a £13 million turnover, more than 140 staff and a solid track record of delivering training programmes and apprenticeships to Welsh Government and other clients across the border in England. Speaking about the company’s decision to become employee owned, Co-founder and Chairman Steve Doyle said: “Three years ago, we had an approach to buy the business, and we were looking for an exit strategy, but we walked away because it didn’t feel right. Someone then told me about employee ownership and the more I explored it, the more it made sense. We didn’t want to lose the culture and identity that we had established. We wanted to maintain the family feel we had created, while growing from 35 staff in 2007 to 140 staff 10 years later. We felt that culture was key to our success”.
Employee Involvement Formula
Only a few employees were involved in the process pre-transition, as the change was commercially sensitive, and for the sake of Itec’s clients it was important that it had to be business as usual. Ninety per cent of the group turnover came from Welsh through any third-party sale. The biggest barrier was a lack of understanding about the process, particularly from an accounting point of view, as it is not a simple concept. Another barrier was getting Welsh Government to support the move – as the company’s biggest client, this was vital.”
Description of Process
The founders of Itec were advised by lawyers Fieldfisher in London, who are experts in this area. They also sought assistance from the Wales Cooperative Centre which is the leading agency supporting employee ownership in Wales.
Mechanisms used to implement the process
To enable ownership of Itec to pass from the current owners to the employees, a Trust was set up and the owners sold 100 percent of their shares into the Trust.
Co-founder and Chairman Steve Doyle says: “It was a lot of work, and of course there were legal costs, but this was much the same as it would be when going He adds: “There were tax benefits for me when I sold my shares, but that wasn’t the main driver for me. 100 per cent of the shares went into the trust, but 25 percent have been reserved to give as share options for senior members of the business.”
Factors of Success
The owners had a lot of staff loyalty and this was important for the deal to go through. Even though staff were not familiar with concept of employee ownership, they trusted the owners and wanted to support the transition.
Main benefits for the company, employees and environment/society
The main benefit for staff is financial, and it gives them security going forward. There is always a danger with a third-party sale that there could be casualties. There is also the community benefit. Itec is a Welsh company and the founders wanted to maintain that Welshness so that all of the profits would go back into Wales. Thanks to the transition, the former owners have now stepped back to working part-time. Steve Doyle says he has two excellent people who have effectively replaced him in heading up finance and HR, and he hopes in five to six years to be stepping back entirely. Government, so the founders really didn’t want to destabilise things. The two members of the employee team who were aware of the plans from near the beginning are now the Finance and HR Directors, who are also both trustees. The founders sold 100 per cent of their shares into the trust, and there has been a lot of work in the last 12 months to help the team understand what this means and the impact that they can have on the business.
The company is now owned by the Employee Trust. Ownership can be transferred if the Trust sells its shares to another party but this can usually only be done if a majority of employees agree.
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The case study was prepared by Paul Cantrill and CeriAnne Fidler (Wales Co-operative Centre)