It was 1999. Chris Rogers and I were both in senior roles at a large, internationally owned cleaning company. We were faced with a dilemma.
We had just been asked to implement a series of policies which we believed were unfair on the people who worked at the business – the people to whom it directly owed its success.
We had a choice. Swallow our pride, put the policies in action and keep our senior roles, or stick to our values and go out on our own. We chose the latter.
Chris and I left our jobs and set up CleanTEC. Our goal was to build a cleaning business where employees would be treated with respect. If our gamble was going to pay off, we were going to need to prove another of our core values true: that confident, happy, respected employees provide the sort of high quality cleaning service that can stake out its place in the sector, even with huge international companies dominating the industry.
I am proud to say over two decades later that we were proven right. We knew, however, that as CleanTEC continued to grow, we couldn’t rely on the initial risk we’d taken back in 1999 to form the backbone of the business’ values if it was going to stick to them in the long term. We didn’t want to see a larger company like the one we’d left buy out the business, keeping the contracts while scrapping the people who’d helped build CleanTEC and helped our gamble pay off.
That’s why, in 2021, we decided to make CleanTEC employee owned. We transferred 72% of our shares to two trusts, which hold them on behalf of all employees who have been with CleanTEC for over six months.
I wanted to share some of the impact that employee ownership has had on CleanTEC and other employee owned businesses. Having been at similar crossroads across my career, I hope that our story might give other businesses the confidence to take the leap.
CleanTEC’s employee ownership journey
Becoming employee owned has unlocked new doors for CleanTEC. Since becoming employee owned, we have become one of the largest employee owned cleaning companies in the UK. In 2022, CleanTEC was named the 16th largest employee owned business in the UK.
For a start, we had the opportunity to join the fantastic Employee Ownership Association (EOA), who have supported us every step of the way. What does that support look like?
In 2023, we became Trustees members of the EOA. Pat Brennan, who had previously worked at CleanTEC before his retirement, returned to become our Independent Trustee Director. Recently, Pat represented CleanTEC at the keynote panel of the 2023 Employee Ownership Association Conference, discussing how British businesses can do better for people, the planet and the economy. I myself was recently invited to the House of Commons to hear the findings of the most comprehensive study in employee ownership ever undertaken in the UK.
It’s not just about guiding others on their employee ownership journey. Because employee ownership has little to do with a business’ sector, bodies like the EOA provide us the opportunity to work with other companies that share our values. When it comes to new opportunities, Pat himself put it best:
Becoming employee owned has been enormously helpful in helping to win new business, particularly as so many of our clients are in the public sector and they really have an affinity, I think, for businesses that are employee owned.”
In that sense, I consider employee ownership a win-win. Or, a win-win-win.
First, as a CleanTEC co-founder, I get to rest easy knowing that the business I helped establish will not only continue to follow the values it was founded upon, but will find new ways to institutionalise those values. I’ve already seen this in our first few years of employee ownership, for example, with the establishment of our Employee Council.
Second, employee ownership offers CleanTEC new avenues for commercial success, allowing the business to demonstrate to prospective clients that we share the same values.
Third, the results of employee ownership confirm a hypothesis that Chris and I relied upon when we founded CleanTEC over 20 years ago, that confident, happy, respected employees provide a higher quality service. Those statistics speak for themselves. If you’re considering beginning your own employee ownership journey, take a look at some of the statistics.
Trends in employee ownership
I’ll keep this to the point.
- Since becoming employee owned, the operating profits of the top 50 employee owned businesses increased by 25.2% (Capital Strategies, 2014)
- 80% of employee owners experience a sense of achievement from their job (Edinburgh Napier University, 2012)
- EOBs are 50% more likely to be expanding their workforce, 25% more likely to see their profits increase, and 70% less likely to have high employee turnover (WPI Economics, 2023)
- 58% of people agree that employee owned business are more trustworthy (YouGov)
Those are just a handful of exciting trends to develop over the past decade. When employees are given a voice, we also see businesses putting increased effort into schemes which affect all of us – in particular, those supporting environmental sustainability. In that sense alone, I believe employee ownership really is the future.
Although it’s been just over two years, CleanTEC’s employee ownership journey has truly only just begun. I look forward to continuing to share our progress and insights from the world of employee ownership. Until then.