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Torchbox transfers 100% of business to Employees

Published on Friday, 28th June 2019, contributed by YOURS SINCERELY

Torchbox transfers 100% of business to Employee Ownership Trust in UK agency first

  • Agency started in 2000 by friends Olly Willans and Tom Dyson, who will hand business over to employees after 20 years

  • Estimated 200,000 employee owners in only 300 businesses in the UK*

Torchbox, a digital agency with 65 employees and offices in Bristol and Oxfordshire, has become the first digital agency in the UK to transfer 100% of its business to its employees. The company offers digital product development and marketing services to clients across non-profit, healthcare and higher education sectors. It created Wagtail, the popular open source CMS now used by the NHS, NASA and Google. The founders first revealed plans to staff in March and expect the sale process to complete on the 28th June 2019. 

Torchbox’s employees, who will receive a tax-free bonus of up to £3,600 every year as part of the deal, have elected a Trust of Directors from the existing workforce. The Trust will work alongside Torchbox’s Directors to oversee strategy and growth, with an emphasis on ensuring that the business’s sense of purpose and values remains paramount. 

Torchbox founders Olly and Tom will be part of the Trust for five years, until their majority stake is repaid by the business. Staff will eventually be able to decide how to direct agency profits and will continue to input into the running of the business via the Trust, in a model similar to that of the John Lewis Partnership. 

“When we were considering the future of Torchbox, we thought about the importance of retaining our independent spirit, continuing our fast growth and empowering our brilliant team to take an active part in our business,” explained Olly Willans. “We decided that by far the best people to own Torchbox are the people who have made it the success it is today, and the people who will continue to make it a success tomorrow. If we were going to choose employee ownership, then we wanted to commit to it entirely without maintaining any kind of minority shareholding.”

Tom Dyson continued: “We plan to spend the next five years focused on maintaining the business’s growth and success, continuing with our US expansion plans and ensuring we hit our targets. We’ve been lucky enough to work with an amazing array of clients who all have a strong purpose - from our first big client the MS Society to huge non-profit organisations like the NHS and NASA. However, the thing I’m most proud of is the team we’ve built at Torchbox - many of them have been with us for more than a decade and two employees have worked here since year one. To me, that says we’ve built something really special, which is even more reason for moving to employee ownership as a thank you for all that hard work and commitment” 

Deb Oxley OBE, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association, said:  “We congratulate Torchbox on its transition to employee ownership. By widening ownership of the business to its employees Torchbox is securing the future of the business, including its ethos, values and employees, while rooting itself locally for the longer term to the benefit of the community which it serves.”

The four trustee directors were elected by staff after interested employees submitted a 100 word bid, explaining why they thought they’d be strong candidates. Bekah Evans, delivery manager at Torchbox is a newly elected trustee director. She commented: “Creating the Employee Ownership Trust will ensure the spirit and soul of the company will continue after Tom and Olly move on. It will help us maintain our independence and continue to grow in a way that benefits clients and staff alike. For me, this also represents a big opportunity to learn new skills while helping to shape the future of our business.”

Torchbox’s news coincides with Employee Ownership Day 2019, which aims to highlight the benefits of employee ownership and celebrate the successes of the UK’s 300 employee owned businesses. 

*Research from Employ Ownership Association website, survey conducted by White Rose - http://wreoc.org/

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About Torchbox:

Torchbox is an independent digital product agency. We help tomorrow’s nonprofits create digital products and services fast. We are the founding developers of Wagtail and lead the open source project. And, we deliver bespoke, data-driven campaigns that deliver record-breaking results across the full digital marketing spectrum. Our clients include: The NHS, NASA, the World Food Programme, Google, Oxfam, the Department for International Trade, the University of Pennsylvania and many more. https://torchbox.com

Additional quotes from Torchbox’s Trustee Directors:

Amina Iqbal, digital marketing consultant: “When we were all called to an offsite meeting by Tom and Olly, we didn’t know what to expect. We were all really pleased that the big news was around employee ownership and it is a genuine honour to be elected as a trustee director. I’m looking forward to continuing to shape the business into the kind of company we all want to work for.”

Alex Bridge, senior developer: “Having the chance to help create the future of the company you work for is a brilliant opportunity. The trustee directors are going to make sure that Torchbox is well set up for future growth and success - it’s a big responsibility, but an exciting one.”

Dave Harris, product director: “Most of the team here are really motivated by strong values. We like working with clients who work for good, and now we are employee owned we feel an even stronger sense of purpose. The trustee directors will reaffirm the values of the business and won’t lose sight of our drive to create something good.”