The Interview: Nic Seal on choosing employee ownership

What motivates someone to transfer ownership of their business to its staff? Environet founder and MD Nic Seal explains.

When did you first start thinking about employee ownership?
It had been at the back of my mind for a number of years that eventually I would need to think about succession planning. Having built Environet from a one-man-band in 1996 to a prosperous nation-wide business employing 15 full time staff, I care deeply about the company, so selling out to the highest bidder was never an option. I’d read about other companies such as Richer Sounds that had converted to employee ownership and their stories were pretty inspiring.

Why did you feel it was the right option?
Employee ownership, specifically the EOT model (Employee Ownership Trust) ticks all the boxes. It rewards staff for their hard work and commitment, motivates them to care even more about the business and all our customers – and it allows myself and my wife Bertie to continue working here for the next few years to ensure the transition is seamless. I will remain as MD for the foreseeable future and can’t wait to embark on this next chapter.

Did you look at other options for the business?
I looked at every option, but only an Employee Ownership Trust satisfied our guiding principles. Our main priority was that we wanted to see Environet prosper well into the future and maintain its independence – which ruled out private equity or selling to a third party. We also wanted to ensure the business remained on a sound financial footing, with little or no debt.

Are there any downsides?
We’re yet to find any. Employee ownership allows us to exit the business gradually, over a number of years, before eventually leaving it in the capable hands of a group of people who care about it as much as we do.

Did you consider passing the company on to your children?
Of course this was an option we looked at, but our children are forging their own paths and it didn’t seem fair on our staff, who have worked so hard to help us build the business and who have contributed so much to its success. We felt it was right that they were the ones to have a stake and a say going forward.

What’s next?
I’m genuinely excited about this next stage of Environet’s journey and can’t wait to see how our staff take the company forward to the next level. For a business to be successful long term it needs employees, shareholders and customers to be happy. If two of these are one and the same, it makes it much simpler!

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