I am an Arup Trustee and former Chairman of the...
On 4 July, Arup hosted UK Government Ministers, Vince Cable and Jo Swinson in our London office for the country’s first Employee Ownership Day. The initiative is aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of this type of management structure, with a view to encouraging more companies to become employee owned.
The day produced some good discussions about Arup’s distinctive values and prompted broader interest in the firm and what we do around the globe.
It also provoked me to think about what being ‘owned in trust for the benefit of the employees’ has actually meant for my own career and that of my colleagues over the years.
As Chairman, I am almost bound to say that Arup’s structure is founded on a great concept. And frankly, I believe it is, in most of the ways that matter.
For example, when I travel to Arup offices around the world I usually try to take the opportunity to talk to young graduates. What I find is that the particular Arup ethos plays a part in attracting highly motivated and engaged people, just as it did when I joined the firm.
Intelligence and creativity are much prized characteristics. We still aim to do world-changing work. And we are still comfortable about giving our young graduates the chance to take early responsibility and get valuable experience under their belts – just as I had.
None of that has changed.
At the same time, our ownership model means we don’t take on major debt. So we cannot expand through acquisition as some other firms do. Yet why would we want to? We have developed enormously successful businesses without acquisition in Asia, for example, all based on our high quality more organic, debt-free growth model.
Our lack of major debt also means we reduce risk to the business. This has helped make us more resilient when economic circumstances have rapidly deteriorated. Our performance over the years since the global financial crisis certainly tends to reinforce that view, as we’ve managed to keep income increasing modestly each year and remain profitable.
There are many other examples I could describe, but the point is that the positive aspects of Arup’s culture have changed little since I started at the firm. However, I do sometimes wonder how things might have turned out without a Trust owned model. Would a firm that had to chase quarterly shareholder returns be quite as committed to early development or helping people pursue innovative projects such as the Pompidou Centre or HaloIPT? I just can’t see it working out in quite the same way.
Not only that, but as Arup’s next generations progress in their careers, I’m sure many of them will come to feel the same sense of engagement as do those of my generation. There is a reason, after all, that 88% of Arup people are proud to work for the firm and 88% would recommend it to the friends as a place to work.
Our particular Trust-based model of ownership is certainly not for every company, or even for every sector. Yet picking out just a few of the advantages that I have witnessed over the years, it is clear that it works for Arup.
And long may it last.