ODI i​s now 50 years old and employee owned! What does this mean?

The company originally began life as Oxford Illustrators back in 1968. A sister company, Oxprint, followed in 1974 to provide design and typesetting services to accompany the illustration work. This meant that the two companies together could provide a total package for their clients’ book production – just as ODI still does today. After various other organisational changes, the two companies eventually became fully incorporated as Oxford Designers & Illustrators Ltd in 1998.

Fifteen years later in 2013,  all but one of the existing directors retired and a new General Manager was appointed from among the staff. It was decided that there should be a different approach for the company in the future. As newer recruits gradually joined the company, they brought in new ideas and there were discussions about the benefits of employee owned companies – this seemed like something that could work for ODI.

The model we chose is ‘indirect employee ownership’, which is widely known for being the company structure used by the John Lewis Partnership. Put simply, it means that instead of any individual(s) owning shares in the company, all of the shares are held in a trust, to be run for the benefit of the company and the people working there at any given time. Trustees are appointed to oversee the running of the trust, normally one from management, one nominated from the staff, plus an external person.

One of the benefits of becoming employee owned is that staff can have more say in the running of the business, so there will be regular meetings where we have the opportunity to comment on matters affecting the way things are being done. The management and trustees will also keep staff apprised of the company’s financial outlook; when the company is in the financial position to do so, there may be dividends and/or bonuses paid, so it is in everyone’s interest for the company to do well!

As our General Manager Roger Noel explained in the Employee Ownership Association’s article, “In an industry where it is difficult to predict the work, the move to becoming employee owned has made us more sustainable for the future and provides a more formal structure for staff to feel more involved in the running of the company.”

“We also feel it makes our business more attractive when recruiting and it has had a really positive reaction from two people who recently joined the business. There is more transparency now so the employees can see where we are financially, and that when we are struggling there will be no additional reward – but that in the future as we continue to work together we can work towards being able to share in the rewards.”

It has taken ODI a long while to get to this point, but the general feeling about this change is very positive, and we are optimistic that this is the right direction for us. Here’s to the next 50 years of great work from ODI!

You can find out more about the different models and about EO businesses in general from the Employee Ownership Association, who have been very helpful and an invaluable source of advice and support throughout the transition process.

John-Paul Clough, ODI Production Manager

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