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Robert Oakeshott (1933-2011) - The champion of employee ownership

Robert Oakeshott is rightly remembered as a “Champion of the employee-ownership model for businesses”, “Champion of worker co-operatives”,“... a social reformer [who] believed that employees should Robert Oakeshott is rightly remembered as a “Champion of the employee-ownership model for businesses”, “Champion of worker co-operatives”,“... a social reformer [who] believed that employees should have a stake in the companies for which they work” and, by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the  inaugural Robert Oakeshott Memorial Lecture, as “the champion of employee ownership”.

Robert championed employee ownership in many ways.  In particular, he founded, and until he retired, ran, the Employee Ownership Association (then called Job Ownership Limited or JOL).

Robert visited companies and their owners, to explain how employee ownership would work, especially as a succession solution for family owned businesses.  He was keen to add to the roster of successful examples of employee owned companies.

Robert was particularly persistent in asking the UK Government to support employee ownership.  A quick read through old files from the late 1980s to mid-1990s brings home his thoroughness, revealing as it does correspondence and meetings with a succession of UK politicians, particularly at HM Treasury, including Norman Tebbit, MP (1989), Norman Lamont, Financial Secretary (1989), Francis Maude, Financial Secretary (1990), Stephen Dorrell, Financial Secretary (1992) Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor (1993), Stephen Dorrell, Financial Secretary, (1994), Sir George Young, Financial Secretary (1995), Nigel Forman, MP (1995), Michael Jack, Financial Secretary (1995) and Dawn Primarolo, Financial Secretary (1997).

He produced a succession of research papers and publications (including all 710 pages of his book, Jobs and fairness: the logic and experience of employee ownership (2000)) and organised conferences, including with the Institute of Directors and the London School of Economics, and other initiatives in the UK.

Robert also encouraged employee ownership around the world. He seized opportunities whenever and wherever they arose.  These international initiatives often started at his regular International Employee Ownership Conference at Merton College, Oxford (the eighth of which was held in January 2001).

JOL hosted numerous study visits including from Russia (1992), the Ukraine (1993), Slovenia (1994), Slovakia (1996) and was also involved with Romania's privatisation programme (1992), a draft Bulgarian ESOP law (1993-1994), Georgia's privatisation programme (1996) and creating an employee ownership vehicle in Macedonia (1999).

Robert organised many ground breaking events on employee ownership including in Hungary, Poland and a workshop in Hanoi in 1994 on Worker Equitisation – MEBOs in the privatisation experience of selected former socialist countries, in Piestany in 1995 on Employee Involvement in Slovakia’s Privatisation and in South Africa in 1995 on Reforms in law to facilitate employee ownership.

Above all, Robert championed employee ownership on a very individual level. As the Guardian’s obituary acutely observed “He is survived by a host of ... protégés”.  His most significant legacy is the combination of those companies he set on the path to employee ownership and the many individuals who caught Robert's enthusiasm for employee ownership and who have continued his work.

 

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