Employee Ownership and Sustainabaility in the Built Environment: A conversation
July 1, 2016

1st July 2016 marks the annual Employee Ownership Day: a national celebration of the benefits of employee ownership, now in its third year. Employee Ownership is, simply put, where a company is directly or indirectly owned by employees. According to the Employee Ownership Association, co-owned companies tend to be more successful, competitive, profitable and sustainable. Donald Insall Associates is celebrating 25 years since the beginning of Employee Ownership at our practice. Our Communications Manager Renée O’Drobinak spoke to Company Secretary and Director Simon Charrington about Employee Ownership, sustainability, and the culture here at the practice.  Below is a short excerpt:

—Donald Insall Associates started to become employee owned 25 years ago by the newly formed Insall Employee Benefit Trust beginning to purchase shares from Sir Donald Insall, who was sole shareholder until then. How is the EBT structured, and what is the role of the EBT board of trustees?

Firstly, Renee, thank you for arranging this interview. It’s great to be given the opportunity to tell our colleagues a bit more about our story, or our Insall Employee Ownership story, remembering that the practice was first founded some 30 years earlier in 1957/8. The Donald Insall Associates (Trustees) Limited (DIAT) is the legal owner of the assets held subject to the trust, in our case shares in Donald Insall Associates Limited and some money reserves. DIAT, via its directors, is obliged by the terms of the trust to hold trust assets for the beneficiaries, i.e. our colleague employees.  The EBT is a discretionary trust giving DIAT, the trustee, considerable flexibility and possibility to take account of new circumstances acting fairly and reasonably as well as considering the interests of all the beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries. 

—What do you think it means to be ‘employee owned’, and how do you think it contributes to the culture of the practice?

I think it means as the EBT Deed states: “Insall’s employees shall have an interest in the Company’s business, a share in its profits and a voice in the direction of its affairs”. This, I believe and hope, is by and large what happens.  We have a core common purpose, and continue to improve. 
The most enlightening feedback I’ve received is, interestingly, from colleagues who have left us (and some who return): one who said our approach and the way we do things is “visionary”; and another who said, when comparing with his new employment, he “definitely felt more involved at Insall, and with various aspects of the office and business, not just doing a job”. 

—How does our employee-owned structure correlate with our ethos in sustainability, both in business and the built environment?

That’s a very good question.  Firstly, I’d say, read Sir Donald’s book Living Buildings.  It ought to be compulsory reading for all colleagues! 
I believe our EO structure correlates very closely in fact with our business and built-environment sustainability.  I think it’s fair to say that, when we set out on this EO journey, we were doing the best to ensure that not only the principles, philosophy and practice of Living Buildings are kept but also keeping the group of people, experts in architecture and conservation, doing it; keeping the Team together, alive, developing, growing, thriving, serving, together as a Team.

To quote Sir Donald, “Buildings are alive!”.  Buildings and people are both living organisms, and so it is with the business, with Insall its simple EO structure built-in.  It’s much better, in my view, to think of it and see it that way, rather than as an organisation which sounds like a passive immovable thing.  At Insall it’s the people and the buildings—living buildings—that are at the heart, the passion. The ‘organisation’ is incidental, it’s there to serve; but the organism, the whole ship, is Alive! (creaky boards and all!).  Another way of viewing the formal structure is that the EBT board is like ‘the Upper House’; the Insall board is the Executive; and all colleagues ‘the House’, with various roles, and strength and diversity together.

Read the full interview here.

Employee Ownership and Sustainabaility in the Built Environment: A conversation