Nigel’s career in employee ownership began more than 30 years ago when, as an idealistic young man, he decided to abandon his well-paid but ultimately unrewarding job in a large bank for an initially unpaid but much more rewarding job in a small not-for-profit loan fund for workers’ co-operatives. The grandly named Industrial Common Ownership Finance, or ICOF for short, still exists today under the name of Co-operative and Community Finance, and has lent many millions of pounds and sustained thousands of jobs in the small but vibrant workers’ co-operative sector. There was an element of nepotism to the ICOF role: the founder of ICOF in 1973 was Nigel’s father-in-law, but nepotism that lands you an unpaid job is of questionable value.
After a few years of being a micro-lender to small co-ops, Nigel became interested in the emerging field of ESOPs. The trade union bank, Unity Trust, had started lending larger sums to employee buyouts that were based on an adaptation of the American ESOP, and Nigel saw the chance to deploy his banking expertise on a larger scale. He won a scholarship to go on an extended study tour of US ESOPs and returned to found Capital Strategies, a corporate finance adviser that set out its stall to advise on and source the finance for large scale employee buyouts.
During the 1990s, Capital Strategies advised on many landmark transactions, some of them derived from long–established family owned firms like the papermaker Tullis Russell, established in 1809, and others created as a response to the Thatcherite programme of privatisations, where employees were often given the right of first refusal to buy the state-owned businesses where they worked. Many progressive companies sought out Capital Strategies for advice on employee share schemes. For example, in a single week in the late 1990s, Nigel met the founders of ethical cosmetics retailer The Body Shop, upmarket fast food chain Pret-a-Manger and global innovation company Dyson.
In 1999, Nigel was asked by the then Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown to join a small group of specialists advising HMRC on the development of two new share schemes to help improve the UK’s lacklustre productivity record. One scheme was to be aimed at entrepreneurial small businesses and was to help them attract talented people from major corporates. This became the popular EMI share option scheme. The other scheme was to broaden ownership for all employees in companies of all sizes, in much the same way envisioned and championed by Jack Fitzpatrick in Ireland. This became the Share Incentive Plan or SIP. Both plans remain well used today after nearly twenty years.
In 2000, with backing from venture capital, Nigel founded a business called myshares.com which was one of the first investor portals aimed at employee shareholders, linking their share plan records from their employers with their private investment records to give them a “whole portfolio” view. The business was acquired by outsourcing group Capita in 2001.
From 2002 to 2009, Nigel led the employee share plans business of Lloyds TSB Registrars, which became Equiniti, the largest provider of share services to the FTSE-100 companies and now a FTSE-250 company itself.
From 2009 to 2011, Nigel served as part-time policy director of the Employee Ownership Association, making representations to the UK government which paved the way for the Nuttall Review in 2012. In that capacity he also supported EOA’s largest member, the John Lewis Partnership, in their efforts to get statutory recognition for their all-employee trust. This led to the introduction of the tax efficient Employee Ownership Trust in 2014.
After a brief interlude from 2011 in which he co-founded one of the first independent energy suppliers in the UK, Co-operative Energy, Nigel returned to employee ownership in 2015, leading the buyout of RM2 from its former owners. RM2 has since become a leading adviser in Employee Ownership Trusts, and transitioned itself to full employee ownership in March 2019. Nigel remains a Senior Associate of the firm.
In the gaps left by his day job, Nigel writes on policy matters, for example contributing a chapter to the Institute for Public Policy Research’s major project called the Commission on Economic Justice. He is also an unofficial statistician for the UK employee ownership sector, compiling and analysing data on EOTs and on the sector as a whole so that policy representations are underpinned by evidence and economic analysis.