Is Employee Ownership The Golden Ticket?

A look into the benefits of employee ownership with a fictional case study twist. On Roald Dahl Day 2017, we discuss what Willy Wonka should have done with the Chocolate Factory.

Employee Ownership – Business succession planning with a twist

Roald Dahl is one of my all time favourite authors; I’ve loved him since I was a little girl. I have many fond memories of my brother and I sitting on our parents’ bed in our pyjamas, enraptured, as my Dad read us our nightly bedtime story. My Dad was a great story teller; he did voices for all the different characters. Whiny and high pitched for the grandmother in George’s Marvellous Medicine, deep and grumpy for Mr Twit, sweet and kind for Matilda’s Miss Honey. It was brilliant.

I remember vividly the old copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that we read from. I think it must have belonged to my Dad when he was a boy and it was clearly well loved. It had a tattered blue cover, yellowing pages and that wonderfully comforting old book smell.

Revisiting the story as an adult is still a pleasure. Dahl’s distinctive style shines through as we follow Charlie’s journey from winning his Golden Ticket to inheriting the Chocolate Factory. But reading the story from the perspective of an adult with knowledge of business strategy makes me look at the eccentric Mr Wonka in a different light. Though clearly a visionary and a master chocolatier; business management (or health and safety procedure for that matter) was obviously not his forte.

I don’t care how nice Charlie is; you can’t go giving your Chocolate Factory away to a random person whom you’ve only just met, especially not when that random person happens to be a young boy with little to no experience of life, let alone business. Given the opportunity to sit down with Mr Wonka, we at the Wales Co-operative Centre would have offered some very different business advice.

‘Mr Wonka’, we would say, ‘we understand that you’re looking to retire and travel the world in your great glass elevator. That means it’s time to think about business succession.’

‘I don’t want the Chocolate Factory to close,’ he would tell us, ‘Or to get into the hands of that trogglehumper, Arthur Slugworth!’ he would adamantly add.

‘Don’t worry Mr Wonka, we have a plan that will save the Chocolate Factory, keep it away from heartless corporations, and allow it to continue bringing joy to the community. You already have a team of experts who know all your secret recipes and understand the day to day running of the factory; they would be the perfect people to take over when you’re gone.’

Mr Wonka would look at us with wide eyed excitement as we said, ‘Employee ownership Mr Wonka. You should sell the Chocolate Factory to the Oompa Loompas!’

‘You see Mr Wonka, if invention is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple, then employee ownership is a much easier recipe. It’s really quite simple: we set up a Trust which is run for, and by, the Oompa Loompas. The Chocolate Factory gives the profits it makes from Scrumpdiddlyumptious Bars and Everlasting Gobstoppers to the Trust and then the Trust can buy the factory from you using those profits. See. Simple. You sell your business to the Oompa Loompas and Zing, you’re off!’

We’re sure Mr Wonka would be fully on board with this idea, given the benefits of employee ownership to both he and the Oompa Loompas.

Employee owned companies are innovatively managed, consulting with staff and giving them a greater involvement in the way their business is run. This greater sense of responsibility tends to result in a higher level of job satisfaction, with staff becoming more committed to the company and its success. Because of this high job satisfaction, employee owned businesses are better at recruiting and retaining talented members of staff, which means that Mr Wonka’s expert team of Oompa Loompas are less likely to head back to Loompaland and more likely to stay and contribute to the success of the Chocolate Factory.

And according to recent research conducted by Social Business Wales which suggests that employee owned businesses out-perform businesses with their own corporate structures, the Chocolate Factory would have an above average chance of success.

This research, paired with a recent YouGov survey which states that the public are more likely to trust an employee owned business, means that, in this time of economic uncertainty, sales of Wonka Chocolate would continue to turn a healthy profit.

(A profit which perhaps the Oompa Loompas could use for the benefit of their local community, by teaching lessons in morality to local youth through the medium of rhyming couplets and dance.)

Roald Dahl once wrote that ‘a little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men’. So whilst discussing Willy Wonka’s business plans may seem a little silly, the benefits of employee ownership are far from fictional and they may turn out to be the wisest thing you ever did for your business.

If you’d like to learn more or discuss your own plans for business succession, why not get in touch with the Business Advisors at Social Business Wales, or download our report on employee ownership in Wales.

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