“It immediately resonated with my sense of fairness and equality,” explains Neil Wright, managing director of TensCare, who was responsible for orchestrating the transition.
TensCare’s core values of caring, cooperation and encouragement stem from the Latin phrase, ‘Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno,’ which translates to ‘one for all, all for one.’ Since its inception in the ‘90s, TensCare has continued to expand its products and services to help others.
Making the move to employee ownership was an evolution of our values, offering benefits not just to the business and its customers, but its team of employee-owners too. It’s had a transformational impact on the way TensCare operates, as well as its output.
How TensCare transitioned to employee ownership
In stark contrast to most employee-owned businesses, employees were initially kept in the dark about the business’s transition to employee ownership (with the exception of newly appointed directors) as Wright had to sign an NDA with the previous owner promising not to disclose his intention of buying the business and making it employee-owned.
“While I had no initial reservations about getting staff to embrace an EO culture, this did mean our team had zero understanding of employee ownership, so we had to work quickly to build an EO culture and communicate how EO values aligned with those of the business,” Wright says.
As part of TensCare’s commitment to good EO governance, they appointed Peter Matthews from Capital for Colleagues, a business that funds and supports companies transitioning to employee ownership, as an independent trustee. And while Wright was able to finance the transition from private ownership to employee ownership without funding, he says the support and advice from Capital for Colleagues has been invaluable.
What changes did TensCare introduce once it became employee-owned?
A variety of new procedures and ways of working were introduced to help staff understand employee ownership, starting with 1-1 sessions with every staff member to explain the new EO status.
90% of the company’s shares were placed into an Employee Ownership Trust fund while employee trustees were appointed to a Board of Trust, which was set up to encourage more open communication channels between staff and directors. And while staff were made to feel comfortable challenging directors if needed, member sessions just for employee-owners allowed staff to speak freely and share ideas without the presence of directors and trustees.
The end result is that these new procedures have encouraged more open communication. This is especially important due to TensCare having staff in offices all over the world, but it also facilitates the free flow of new creative ideas. One such idea from an employee-owner, a powered muscle stimulator for body toning and shaping, has become an integral part of the business’s growth into a new market, and is now one of its best-selling products.
Ultimately, staff feel more confident sharing and implementing new ideas. They take leadership on projects and feel more engaged with the business, and are always willing to go the extra mile. To nurture this collaborative working environment, TensCare has introduced days out, weekly and monthly events, and charity team-building initiatives. There’s a new-found importance on maintaining this sense of comradery, especially post-pandemic.
It’s worth noting that Tenscare never forced any of these changes on its staff. Like any business, there are some who will always be resistant to change, and the company’s international sales and marketing manager, Karina Mier Benitez, says it’s important for employee-owned businesses to be honest about levels of engagement and find the best ways to engage with employees at the outset.
Outcomes and reflections
Since its transition in 2017, the team has grown from 17 to over 45 employee-owners. Sales have tripled. Profit margins have increased significantly, and in April, the business was awarded a Queen’s Enterprise Award for International Trade.
Measuring individual levels of engagement across the team can be difficult outside of internal surveys, but is evident in the output of the business. That said, employee ownership is about much more than the financial benefits for employee-owners and the business.
“It’s not just a financial reward, it’s an emotional reward,” Wright says. “If people feel engaged and they’ve got a purpose – that their team is committed and they’re encouraged and care for – that is much more important than the profit line because that will always follow if people are committed.”
And after four years of operating as an employee-owned business, Wright believes employee ownership is a credible alternative to a trade sale and would recommend the business model to any business exploring succession plans if they feel the values of EO align with those of their business.