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Home » Sewell Sets Out On Employee Ownership Path As Deal Done For 25 Per Cent Stake

Sewell Sets Out On Employee Ownership Path As Deal Done For 25 Per Cent Stake

Leading Hull business Sewell Estates has started the journey to employee ownership.

Entrepreneurial leader of the multi-disciplined operation, Paul Sewell OBE, has moved 25 per cent of the company’s shares into a trust for the 287-strong workforce. It was a deal described as having a “bg discounting factor” with straightforward terms to pay off through the business’ future profits. If it proves successful, the stake could increase.

All employees who have served for more than six months get an equal share in the earnings of the business, already ranked as one of the top 50 best large companies to work for nationwide, and a proud holder of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Promoting Opportunity.

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The company began in construction and has branched out to retail, facilities management and consultancy. A total of seven business units are included in the Sewell Estates element – Sewell Investments, Shared Agenda, Community Ventures, Parallel, Sewell Construction, Illingworth & Gregory and Sewell Facilities Management, with fuel and convenience retail arm Sewell on the Go retained by Mr Sewell and his son Patrick. Combined they turned over more than £115 million in the latest published accounts.

Mr Sewell said: “I have always believed in employee ownership – that employees make or break a company and should have a greater stake than just salary and bonus can provide. They should feed into the strategic concept of a company, its sustainability and overall value.

“My shareholding in the business began back in 1986 with a 25 per cent stake in what was F Sewell & Son – no family ties, just a naming coincidence – and for me that was the most important, it gave me a degree of security; I felt that I’d be able to make a difference, be appreciated and have a voice. That’s what I wanted for myself back then, and what I’ve long wanted for the people who work across the group now.

“People across our business have always had a voice, but the introduction of an employee ownership trust will formalise this and give our people even more autonomy, freedom to make decisions and directly feed into the governance of the group – whoever they are within our business. It will also protect and enhance the culture we’ve built over many years and our ability to make a difference to the communities in which we work.”

Paul Sewell OBE is presented with a trophy and citation for the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Promoting Opportunity by Lord Lieutenant of East Riding, Jim Dick OBE, back in November last year. (Image: Ascough Associates Media and Public Relations) Mr Sewell, who recently took on the chair at Hull KR, will continue to chair the group and business operations will remain unchanged, with Jo Barnes, Sewell Estates managing director, continuing to steer the leadership team.

Deb Oxley OBE, formerly chief executive of the Employee Ownership Association, and a Hull-born East Yorkshire resident, will be the independent chair of the trust, She will be joined by Paul and Patrick Sewell, as well as financial director Simon Davison who has provided the framework as the concept became a reality over the past year.

Three employees will also sit on the board. Below it will be an employee council, featuring Mrs Barnes and a HR lead, as well as 10 diverse representatives from the businesses that make up the group.

Mrs Oxley, who chairs the Cat Zero trustee board, has her own consultancy and was recognised for her work in the sphere with the 2019 New Year’s Honour, said: “Employee ownership is not a new model, but it’s one that’s growing hugely as business owners are looking for a sustainable solution to succession and ensuring their business is a force for good, not only profit.

“Sewell Estates is the perfect example of a business for whom this was a natural next step. They already have a huge amount of employee engagement and input, but this move will solidify that and give people more opportunities to influence change.

“Because they’re co-owners, staff in employee owned businesses tend to be more entrepreneurial and committed to the company and its success. Having got to know the Sewell Group over recent months, I’m sure this will be the case.”

Sewell Estates managing director Jo Barnes has welcomed the move, encouraged by the empowerment it will bring to a highly skilled team, now at a record level.

“Paul turned 70 last year and has always had a view that people who run the business should own the business,” she said. “The first step is transferring 25 per cent. We’re trying to take baby steps, as the business is going well.

“Over the last few years we have made sure we have a diversified group of businesses. We’ve balanced the income streams and tried to make sure we don’t have the peaks and troughs we have had in previous years.

“It is important to ensure we have balance, and that our staff have a future, careers that keep them excited and interested. If we look after them, they look after the customers, it is a very sustainable business model.

“The businesses we have developed have brought together good professional staff, and it is really important to achieve that skill base. We’re not just creating jobs, we are creating skilled, well paid roles. It is a good model for us, it has enabled us to be in a position where we are steadily growing the group in terms of people, services, and quality.”

Employees have been informed of the completion of the transfer over the past fortnight.

“It has been really well received by the team, the new ‘co-owners’.” Mrs Barnes said. “The team is brilliant, we have people that want to do right by the customer and work as a team, and it is no surprise to me they are so engaged as we have gone to significant lengths to employ them!

“With the rights and rewards come risks and responsibilities to be aware of in a business. We will have to work together on that. We are a very transparent business, and we will have to be even more so.”

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