Two more industry names become employee owned

Wee Blue Coo currently employs 30 staff
Wee Blue Coo currently employs 30 staff

Print and design firm Wee Blue Coo and publisher The Folio Society are the latest industry businesses to become employee owned.

Edinburgh-based Wee Blue Coo said it has rewarded its staff with the keys to the business following their hard work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company was established during the 2008 financial crash by Bob and Joelle Kirkpatrick and today sells its products – which include cards, framed prints, and gift boxes – on multiple online marketplaces, dispatching thousands of products each week.

Currently employing 30 staff and with a turnover of more than £2m, all of the company’s products are printed in-house.

Having previously gifted a 10% shareholding to long-term employee Allan Gray for his hard work and dedication, the three shareholders agreed that the move to employee ownership was in line with the company’s values by safeguarding the future of the business for the benefit of its employees.

The owners began exploring the succession model in 2019 after it was suggested to them by EQ Accountants partner David Morrison.

They began the process of transitioning the business to an Employee Ownership Trust at the start of 2021. The move was facilitated by Carole Leslie from Ownership Associates as well as the teams at EQ Accountants and Anderson Strathearn.

Bob Kirkpatrick said: “There are perhaps more well-known ways to make an exit from a business, however, this was the only real option to ensure we safeguarded the futures of those who have contributed to our company’s success. The Employee Ownership Trust seems like a perfect and logical way to structure any business.”

Joelle Kirkpatrick added that relaying the news to the company’s staff has “without a doubt, been the highlight of my career so far”.

Staff were said to be delighted with the move, which warehouse manager Graeme Slater described as “a great opportunity to help us to grow as a company and offers us the chance to enjoy a more secure and prosperous future”.

EQ Accountants’ Morrison added: “Having advised Bob, Joelle and the team for many years, it is great to see them safeguard the future of their business by handing control to their dedicated workforce.

“This is a great example of using an EOT [Employee Ownership Trust] as a solution to succession, whilst ensuring that employees are rewarded for their hard work. We look forward to continuing to support Wee Blue Coo as they thrive as an employee-owned business.”

Separately, The Folio Society has also just announced the sale of the business to its employees under the terms of an EOT, giving its staff 100% ownership of the company.

The transition of the publishing house, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next year, was the brainchild of CEO Joanna Reynolds.

The structure of the business day-to-day will remain unchanged, with the current management board remaining in post to lead the business. Alongside Reynolds will be CFO Urmi Dutta-Roy, publishing director Tom Walker, marketing director Emma Lawson, and business services director Mark Mainstone, with the addition of Brian Edwards as non-executive chair.

An Employee Council and The Folio Society Trust are the other key elements of the structure.

Shareholder and management board chair Kate Gavron said: “The shareholders are delighted by the creation of an Employee Ownership Trust for The Folio Society. I am certain that my late husband, Bob Gavron, who bought the company in 1982, would have approved enthusiastically.

“Folio is a publisher of beautiful books, created to the highest editorial standards and with outstanding design and illustration. It is fitting that the new owners should be the employees, as they are the people who have made it what it is today.

“I am confident that Folio has an exciting and successful future under the leadership of Joanna Reynolds, with an excellent management team supported by Brian Edwards as non-executive chair.”

Reynolds added the company’s leadership team was “very excited about the move to an EOT”.

“It is a progressive, innovative, industry-leading approach that reflects our values and will position the business strongly for the future,” she said.

“The people who have driven the business forward and who will continue to strive for excellence in everything we do, will own Folio.

“We believe that our authors, illustrators, and other key partners will celebrate with us in this positive step towards the next 75 years of Folio’s story. We love the books we publish and know they can only get even better.”

EOTs are currently in operation at around 600 firms in the UK. They were introduced by the government in 2014 to mirror the John Lewis model and encourage a wider roll-out of employee ownership.

Other print businesses that have recently become employee-owned include labels specialist Denny Bros Group and packaging company Alexir Partnership.