Seetec’s Founder Peter Cooper On Why He Chose Employee Ownership
My letter of wishes – the guiding principles and legacy:
When 30 unemployed young people first came to a former primary school in Essex more than 35 years ago to learn computer programming skills from Seetec trainers, our simple aim was to help them to change their lives for the better. To help them to reach their potential by giving them tools to shape their own future and to take ownership and responsibility for their lives. Since then, we have helped hundreds of thousands of people find work, learn new skills, start a career and, more recently, through our justice division, turn away from crime and make more positive choices.
Originally founded as a registered charity and a private company from 1989, our founding ethos to empower people and deliver social value is hardwired into our organisational culture. As a result, we have become a very different kind of business services organisation by growing sustainably, maintaining a strong focus on our core business and delivering tangible social value for the people, communities and businesses we serve.
As I approach 36 years at the helm of the business, I have increasingly wrestled with how best to protect these values, ethos and roots in communities across the UK and Ireland. I have never been satisfied that a sale to outside investors would protect our record as a force for good, fearing that we would be subsumed into a corporate culture which is not sufficiently focused on doing the right thing for the people who use our services.
It has become increasingly clear to me that the best people to take Seetec forward are you, its employees. It is you who have the strongest relationships with the people you support, and it is you who understand what it takes to deliver life-changing services. Our organisation was founded to help people to take ownership and responsibility over their lives and it is therefore a logical step for Seetec’s employees to take on ownership of the business.
Last month, we set up a Seetec Employee Ownership Trust to which I have now sold 51 per cent – a controlling stake - of Seetec’s shares. The trust is for the sole benefit of Seetec’s 2,500 employees.
What this means in practice is that Seetec’s future is in the hands of its employees and we maintain our independence. It enshrines and guarantees employee ownership of the business on a permanent basis as well as securing a long-term presence in the first building and community we worked in, now our fully restored head office in Hockley, Essex.
I have always valued employee ownership and participation and for the past 30 years, 18 per cent of the business has been held in an Employee Benefit Trust for those who were part of setting up Seetec and creating the organisation that we are today. Moving to an EOT structure fulfils a long-held ambition to extend employee ownership and participation further. I will retain a minority stake of 29 per cent and remain fully committed to our future success. Our charity, Your Ambition, retains its existing 1.5 per cent holding.
There is now an exciting future ahead as we establish a new dedicated employee council to manage and represent your interests and shape the company’s future direction.
It is for you to embrace the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of employee ownership and the control of your long-term future so you can all share in the prosperity of the business. I would ask that you actively participate in supporting and engaging with our leaders and your new representatives on the Employee Council that we are forming. We want each employee’s voice to be listened to across the business and everyone to have the opportunity to exercise a very real influence on the direction of the business.
It is my hope that as empowered, enabled and engaged co-owners, we can drive even better quality and outcomes for people who use our services. It is now a shared responsibility from the senior leadership, middle managers and frontline colleagues, to drive and improve growth, performance and competitiveness. And we all have a stake in ensuring we have transparent and trusted governance structures, which enable us to work to the high ethical standards that we expect from those in the public sector and in business. We must ensure we continue to create opportunities - and be trusted - to change and improve lives and make a real difference in our communities and environment.
As part of these changes, I will step away from day-to-day management responsibilities. I will continue to invest in and support the business in my role as Chairman of the Seetec Group.
As many of you know, John Baumback was one of our very first trainees, who went on to become our managing director and advance extraordinary growth in the business. He is the natural successor to me and becomes Group Managing Director. John and I are fully committed to employee ownership as the long-term destiny of our company as we work together with you in the weeks and months ahead to create the structures we need to thrive as an employee owned enterprise.
I know that we are all incredibly proud that Seetec is recognised as a force for good, which is built on your support and dedication over many years. Under employee ownership it is my hope that we can continue our legacy of growth as a private limited company that represents an alternative way; that creates profit for social value and rewards each other, comfortable in the knowledge that it is possible and indeed desirable to do well by doing good.