Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), the leading international design consultant to the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries, has become the first US business to adopt the UK's Employee Ownership Trust model, supported by European law firm Fieldfisher.
WATG’s decision to move to an Employee Ownership Trust was spurred by a desire to ensure the company’s longevity, continued growth and success in the face of increasing consolidation in the architecture, engineering and design industries.
The employee owned business model in the UK is rapidly growing and operates in almost every sector of the economy including retail, manufacturing, creative media, engineering and architecture. The value of employee owned businesses in the UK is estimated at £30bn. According to the UK Employee Ownership Association, the number of UK employee owned companies is growing at an annual rate of just under 10%.
Mike Seyle, WATG President + CEO explained the firm’s decision: “Employee owned companies have an excellent record of long-term sustainability, innovation and financial success because the employees are more engaged in doing great work, generating new ideas and delivering superior service. We’re already seeing positive changes—our colleagues are more involved, more committed and recognize they have a valuable voice in the future of the company. It also helps that the employees know the company is here for the foreseeable future, they don’t have to worry about the company being bought out from under them. As a professional services firm, retaining the world’s best talent is our top priority and the Employee Ownership Trust model will help us achieve that goal while ensuring we remain a successful business for the long term.”
Referencing the impact of the new employee ownership model for WATG, Krystal Solorzano, Senior Associate in Singapore commented: “This is one of the most inspiring changes in our firm I’ve experienced during my tenure here. For me it’s a clear signal that our senior leadership have created an inclusive environment where all of our voices are heard. It’s extremely motivating for me to know I’m working for a firm that I have a vested interest in.”
WATG was advised by Graeme Nuttall, partner at European law firm Fieldfisher, and author of the UK government report into employee ownership, The Nuttall Review. Nuttall, who was awarded the OBE for services to employee ownership, said: "More and more UK businesses and their staff now benefit from employee ownership and we're delighted that many are attracted, in particular, to the employee ownership trust model. WATG's acceptance of this model shows that it works internationally. The WATG Employee Ownership Trust holds shares in WATG in perpetuity, on behalf of all employees from time to time. This works well as a business model because this form of ownership avoids the complexities of "direct" ownership models. There's no need for regular share valuations and having to get employees to buy and sell shares as they join and leave. In addition, instead of requiring senior staff to buy significant personal stakes in the company, employees can achieve promotion without incurring personal financial cost and risk."
Loren Rodgers, Executive Director, National Centre for Employee Ownership (NCEO) applauded WATG’s move to employee ownership: "The decision by WATG to implement employee ownership through the perpetual trust model pioneered by the John Lewis Partnership is a wonderful signal of the vitality of employee ownership, especially among global firms."
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