Riverford switched to employee ownership to protect its values and independence in 2018.
Guy Singh-Watson started Riverford in 1987. At first he delivered organic vegetables to 30 friends in Devon. Now the award-winning company deliveries around 47,000 organic food boxes a week to homes around the UK from its regional farms.
Keen to avoid the business falling into the hands of external shareholders, and with none of his four children interested in following in his footsteps, Singh-Watson had been exploring succession options for more than a decade. In 2018 he chose employee ownership to “protect Riverford’s values, ensure its independence, and because employees are the best people for the job”.
74% of the company is now owned by an Employee Trust, benefitting all of Riverford’s 650 employees equally. Singh-Watson retains a 26% share of the business, which he can only sell to the trust. Riverford is now governed by a board, staff council and trust, with the current day-to-day management team remaining in place.
Singh-Watson said: “Time might prove me hopelessly idealistic, but I don’t think so; over the last year we have been working towards a more inclusive, human style of management, and the signs are so good that even our more militaristically minded managers are embracing the change.
“It feels as if an oppressive cloud is already lifting and a new dawn, full of exciting possibility, is revealing itself. In the end, the most critical factor is confidence: in each other and in our shared humanity; the confidence to be our whole selves, and not to wait for others to lead the way.”
New rules needed
Policies that can help unleash the potential of this or similar initiatives across the UK.
Start inclusive ownership funds
An economic heartbeat that transfers the ownership and control of businesses to workers and other key stakeholders.
Implement an employee right to own
Co-operatise existing businesses to accelerate new models of ownership and increase the volume of the co-operative sector in the UK.
Launch a Co-operative Development Agency
A network of support and capacity building to develop and extend the capabilities of the co-operative movement.
Introduce a Co-operative Economy Act
A legal framework tailored to the needs of co-operatives and supportive of their future development.