From social enterprises to B Corps, a whole raft of companies have been exploring new ways to run their businesses in recent years. As CR explored in a recent piece, one model that is proving increasingly popular is the Employee Ownership Trust. More than 700 companies have become EOTs since its introduction in the UK in 2014, including the John Lewis Partnership, Richer Sounds and Arup. Employee Ownership and specifically Trusts are also gaining momentum in the US, and the Nordics have a long tradition of employee (share) ownership.
The latest EOT convert in the creative industries is digital product studio Ustwo, best known for its work with Google, Barclays and BMW. Established in 2004 by John ‘Sinx’ Sinclair and Matt ‘Mills’ Miller – both of whom were then in their 20s – the newly announced move will see the founders and shareholders transfer ownership of the studio’s London, Malmö, Lisbon, New York and Tokyo outposts to an EOT. Speaking of the decision, Sinx says: “We want to protect the values and culture of the studios. By becoming employee-owned we can reduce our equity as founders and keep the vibrancy that is associated with our work and perspective.”
The seeds of an employee-owned model were planted back in 2018, when Carsten Wierwille joined the studio as CEO, with the mandate to help Sinx and Mills begin transitioning away from running the business. “The goal really was to shift to a different model where the founders were less involved in the day-to-day running of the company,” he tells CR. “The topic of ownership came up, because I had gone to design firms that were owned by technology outsourcing firms, which in turn were owned by private equity, so I saw the clash of cultures and incentives. I could tell them a lot of horror stories in terms of what not to do.”