Top 50 employee owned companies in 2018

Well, there is no real surprise. The largest employee-owned company in the UK is still the John Lewis Partnership, as it has been since records began. But ranking behind this much-admired behemoth in the annual league table is a dynamic group of companies, and changes in this group year-on-year give us a fascinating picture of how the sector as a whole is changing.

Each year, RM2 compiles a list of the largest 50 employee-owned companies in the UK. We publish that list with the support of the Employee Ownership Association.
We define size by employee numbers rather than sales or profits. And we define “employee-owned” as more than 25% of the issued share capital of a company held directly by, or indirectly for the benefit of, most or all employees of company. We’ve published EO Top 50 List now for five years, and every year we’ve seen the number of employees needed to gain entry on to the list rise – from 143 in 2014 to 380 in 2018, suggesting there are more large employee-owned companies being created every year.

Interesting, the total sales revenue and the total employee numbers of the top 50 have come off their peak in 2017, largely due to the disappearance into administration of one large employee-owned wholesaler and a slight contraction in the size of the flagship John Lewis Partnership. But when comparing apples with apples, namely the total sales of this year’s list versus total sales of that exact same list the year before, total sales are up 6.5% at £19.8 billion and employee numbers are down only 1% at 171,000.

The trades of the top 50 remain concentrated in professional services and social care businesses, the latter group having been created from spin-outs from the public sector or the NHS.

The performance of the top 50 remains very impressive. Operating profits increased by 9.2% (median, and on a like-for-like basis) and productivity, measured as the change in value added per employee, increased by 7.3%, at a time when productivity in UK business generally is flat.

It’s good to see some well-known names appearing on the list for the first time, such as Riverford Organic Foods, but there are as many well-known names appearing below the Top 50 league table, such as Aardman Animations, and this is largely due to the popularity of the Employee Ownership Trust as an exit route for founders. So not only is the upper end of the sector steadily increasing in size, but the “long tail” of smaller employee-owned companies is also increasing in size, pointing to healthy overall growth in the sector.

If you would like to know more about the Employee Ownership Trust structure and the benefits it could provide to you and your company contact us on 0208 949 5522 or email