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Simon Woodhead

Simon Woodhead

14th July 2023

By Simon Woodhead

There’s a certain department store and supermarket who are known for two things, the first  being “never knowingly undersold”, but the more significant for me at least being that everyone who works there is a shareholder. They’re far too far away for me to frequent often, but one of the standout things I remember is the standard of customer service.

Contrast a more typical supermarket chain, with employees paid minimum wage or close to, and everything being optimised to maximise shareholder value, to one where the employees are the shareholders. They’re paid properly and the right decisions are made for the long-term interests of the business and its customers, not the CEO’s bonus or the bonus of the fund manager who has taken a position in the stock – the tail shouldn’t wag the dog but more often than not does. 

From a customer perspective, how amazing is it that whoever in the business you speak to, at whatever level, you’re speaking to the owner. Owners care, and as a customer you can feel it.

So today, I’m pleased to say is a day Simwood joins those ranks of employee-owned businesses. Shareholders in Simwood Group PLC have voted to quadruple the number shares in the business, and for the new ones to be for the benefit of current management, staff and contractors within the group. We’re waiting on some approvals (HMRC etc.) but very soon when you phone up, open a support ticket, or converse with the guy who cleans the toilets (genuinely the job I have most respect for) you’ll be speaking to the owner. How awesome is that?!

We’ve had an EMI scheme before but it was pretty restrictive because, to be perfectly honest, Simon 1.0 didn’t want to give shares away. They represent 27 years of blood, sweat, marriages and lots of tears after all. Moreover though, we weren’t that imaginative in how we structured things. Since stepping back into the business, as Simon 2.0, I see things a bit differently and the whole team here have been amazing in working to do things right for the long term. I’ve also come to appreciate that sharing the future is very different to giving away the past, and making equity awards contingent on value-adding milestones is very different to just giving away equity and potentially rewarding failure. What we’ve done is quite complicated but I’m confident it is a first in telecoms. 

Silicon Valley has remunerated in shares for years, at least for those employees they don’t dispose of in the next breath. I recognise the positive side of that but we take a longer-term view and in 27 years have only ever made one person redundant – Marke, who we still miss, didn’t want to come with us when we moved to Bristol. Nobody whatsoever has been ‘let go’ in cost-cutting or reorganisation! I want colleagues to be here in 5 and 10 years time and to have the opportunity to share in the value they’ve created, and I want them to truly care. That is hopefully what we’ve prepared the ground for today. It follows other changes such as across the board pay rises (funded out of efficiencies), significant increases to our now quarterly bonus scheme, and joining the Living Wage Foundation so nobody gets left behind. 

We’re putting our money where our mouth is; instead of token or selfish symbolism in the present, if we were to exit, then those that helped us get there will share in the success. Along the way they’re treated with fairness and gratitude – fellow drivers, not passengers. 

Don’t worry, I haven’t become a socialist (even if the spectrum of political parties have!). I’m still a capitalist, but a rebel capitalist (thanks George!). We’ll put pronouns on our email signatures, promote out of tokenism, or recognise a Pot Noodle’s right to self-expression over my dead body. But not all current trends are utterly insane. I’ve always wanted colleagues to care as much as I do and this feels the right thing to do in these times to that end.

I hope you’ll welcome all my fellow owners and they’ll continue to delight you. I’m immensely proud of and grateful to all of them.

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