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1 May 2014

By The Times: Power of Scotland

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Alan3

Scotland's oil and gas industry has rightly earned its reputation for innovation.  But, unfortunately, it has also earned one for its skills shortage.

It dominates headlines, threatens growth and is a hurdle every employer must overcome.  Inflated salaries do little to detract from talent poaching, so the solution lies elsewhere.

At Accord Energy Solutions we’ve found just that.

When the other co-directors and I left our jobs with a multinational FTSE 100 company to set up Accord Energy Solutions in 2010 we had one overriding goal: we wanted to establish a company that was owned by its staff.

Of course, it also had to be successful, have a long term future and be rooted in the community. We felt that by achieving these aims we would strike a blow for responsible capitalism in the wake of the recent financial crisis and chronic skills shortage.

We were the first company in Scotland to create an employee ownership business from start-up.  We were also the first in the industry to found a company on its principles.  In an industry where the traditional strategy is to grow a company until it achieves multi-millions in turnover before selling-out and moving on, what we were creating didn’t just go against the grain it circumvented the grain all together.

And that’s exactly where we wanted to be. We experienced the traditional strategy before where a company was grown to sell. But only the minority benefit from that set-up.

At Accord we endeavoured to create a place that benefited the majority where people feel valued, invested and passionate about where they work.

At the beginning all we had was a blank piece of paper, a map with no bearings.  We threw ourselves into research and discovered a treasure trove of business which not only embraced the employee ownership model, but were thriving with it.  We learned of Phillip Baxendale and the Baxi Partnership, David Erdal and Loch Fyne Oysters (his book became our company bible), Tullis Russell, Co-operative Development Scotland and the Employee Ownership Association.  With their help we began to plot a course to our destination and now three years later we are well on our way.

Over the past three years Accord’s growth has exceeded our expectations and employee ownership has been the heart of that growth.  We achieved record turnover this year at £4.3 million – a 38 per cent increase on last year’s figures.  This places us firmly on track to achieve our goal of recording £5m in turnover by 2015.

Our employees don’t just have an emotional stake in the company.  They have a financial stake too.  Everyone from the director to the engineer to the office manager shares in its success.

And we’re not alone. According to the Employee Ownership Association, employee-owned companies have withstood the test of economic turmoil. In 2012, despite the on-going financial crisis, the growth rate of employee owned businesses was 50 per cent higher than the UK economy. Since the Employee Ownership Index began in 1992, employee owned companies have outperformed FTSE All-share companies by an average of 10 per cent every year.

Employee-owned companies currently make up 3 per cent of the UK’s GDP and advocates hope to increase that number to 10 per cent by 2020.

Research by the Baxi Partnership and the Employee Ownership Association also showed that employees are dedicated to their company and more satisfied with their jobs, resulting in a good corporate culture.  Hard work, enthusiasm and loyalty are rewarded by substantial shares and an influential voice in the running of the company.

In an industry as competitive as the oil and gas industry, retention is just as important as recruitment.  Employee ownership allows us to do both.  Our customers also value the strength of their company contract relationships. Accord’s high retention level inspires client confidence and allows us to work with major global operators.

Ultimately, employee ownership has the potential to set a company apart in a crowded marketplace. A company’s success is down to its people and it should be all staff, not just a select few, who get to enjoy the fruits of their labour.