Former owners sold leading signage company to its workforce.


In 2015 John Clark and Alistair Miller were looking to sell the successful graphics and signage business they had founded 30 years earlier. An approach from a much larger American company looked promising – and would have guaranteed them an exceptionally comfy retirement. But, as Clark explained to Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian, it became increasingly clear that the buyers planned to transfer production elsewhere and lay off the existing 60-odd staff: You’d be sitting back with your piles of cash, but at some point you’re going to bump into those guys. Some of them have been there longer than me. I know their families.”

Instead, through a Scottish government agency, Scottish Enterprise, Clark and Miller discovered an alternative: employee ownership. Clark told Print Week: When you are looking to exit your business there are only a few avenues open: trade sale, family succession, or a management buyout, though that means the business could be sold on again down the line. Through Scottish Enterprise, I came across employee ownership and by December 2016, Novograf was 80% trust-owned and 20% employee shares.

It has been a learning experience, but the benefits come from employees owning what they do. Equality and inclusiveness are prominent issues, and this is a very good option for growing businesses that recognise that.”

In 2018 the Scottish government set up a new body, Scotland for EO, to work towards a five-fold increase in the number of worker-owned businesses in Scotland. Novograf’s John Clark sits on the steering group.


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