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Employee Ownership Set to Gain Momentum in 2019

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European law firm Fieldfisher advised 13 businesses on their transition to employee-owned structures in 2018, a record for the firm, and looks set to more than double this number in 2019 as an increasing number of companies look to benefit from progressive ownership models.

European law firm Fieldfisher expects to see further significant growth in its employee ownership structuring practice in 2019, after a record year for instructions from businesses looking to convert.

Increasing numbers of small and medium sized enterprise owners are concluding that protecting the independence of their business, while emphasising the need to benefit employees, means that moving to an employee ownership trust (EOT) model of ownership is the most appropriate exit route as founders of those businesses plan for their retirement.

Fieldfisher advised 13 clients on successful conversions to EOTs last year and already has more than half that number in the process of restructuring their ownership models in the first two months of 2019.

Notable clients that adopted EOTs last year included vegetable box delivery company Riverford Organics, social justice-focused law firm Hodge Jones & Allen and leading UK design and architecture practices, MoreySmith and Apt.

Companies that the firm has helped to transfer to EOTs this year include the Royal Warrant-holding heritage conservation specialists PAYE Stonework & Restoration, whose restorations include Windsor Castle, the Palace of Westminster, The Savoy Hotel, Hampton Court and most recently The Temple of Mithras in the City of London.

Led by tax and structuring partners Graeme Nuttall OBE and Mark Gearing, corporate partner Neil Palmer and senior associate Tamsin Nicholds, Fieldfisher’s employee ownership structuring practice has assisted around 50 businesses in moving to employee ownership models since 2010.

The firm was highly commended for its work on employee ownership by the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Europe Awards 2018, in which Fieldfisher was ranked 19th out of the top 50 innovative firms in Europe.

Fieldfisher also hosted a number of employee ownership events during the past year, including a gathering at the firm’s office to mark EO Day 2018, bringing together businesses with key thinkers, policy makers and advisers on progressive business models.

The firm is seeing increasing international interest in EOTs, particularly from the US and Australia, where governments and business communities are seeking to learn from the UK and Fieldfisher’s leading expertise in this area.

Commenting on the firm’s record on employee ownership trust structuring, Mark Gearing and Neil Palmer, partners and EO specialists at Fieldfisher said:

“We are extremely proud of our success in the field of employee ownership.

“Following a busy 2018, we have been inundated with enquiries this year from companies seeking to learn more about the benefits of EOTs.

“There is a growing body of evidence that this type of ownership structure is a way of future-proofing businesses.

“It is proving particularly popular with companies based on ‘people services’, such as design and architecture practices and law firms, and its appeal is expanding to businesses in other industries whose ‘product’ is their staff.

“Recent research by an independent panel of senior business leaders and industry experts found clear evidence that employee ownership can deliver outcomes that are significantly beneficial and, together, constitute a dividend (The Ownership Dividend).

“This ownership dividend pays off at three levels: for individual workers, for businesses, and – most critically – for the wider economy.

“There is however still some work to do improve awareness of the tremendous benefits of employee ownership.

“We look forward to continuing our work in this area, both with clients and with advisers and policy makers to promote wider understanding of EOTs.”

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