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23.05.2019

Richer Sounds | Connecting with Culture

Sounds of excited chatter gave way to hushed gasps, then spontaneous applause, and then a standing ovation.

Such was the scene at the recent annual conference for store managers of the electronics retailer Richer Sounds. It occurred when its founder-CEO Julian Richer made an announcement that has caused greater reverberations than any of his hi-fi and entertainment systems.

Confronting his mortality on reaching age 60, Richer explained, it was time for him to hand his company to its workers. As the sole owner of Richer Sounds since he was a teenager, he would now transfer the majority of his shares to his employees and provide them with a ‘thank you’ bonus.

Employee-ownership is rare in business. After all, it demands extraordinary courage and generosity for an owner to give away the business they’ve worked so hard to build. This is what it took for John Spedan Lewis to establish the John Lewis Partnership in the early 20th century. Its continued high street prevalence obscures how exceptional it is for a major company only to have employees as shareholders.

Nevertheless, interest in the employee-ownership models of business is growing. They are associated with higher levels of workforce engagement, productivity, and innovation.

All this reflects the fact that ownership is not just a business issue but a moral and theological one. In the Old Testament, the right to ownership is enshrined in the eighth commandment: ‘You shall not steal’ (Exodus 20:15). This right is not absolute, for God is portrayed as owning everything; humans are stewards and trustees.

Biblical theology pulls no punches, therefore, with those who become wealthy by oppressing the poor (Proverbs 22:16). Julian Richer has become wealthy largely through providing jobs with exemplary employment practices for his employees. His recent announcement demonstrates his awareness that he built his business only with their help.

That announcement, and the response with which his employees greeted it, echo a brief workplace exchange moments before Boaz, a responsible employer, met a poor labourer called Ruth. On arriving at his fields, Boaz greets the harvesters ‘The Lord be with you!’, to which they reply ‘The Lord bless you!’ (Ruth 2:4). As with Richer, the owner’s goodwill towards his workers is reciprocated.

The mic and amp of some businesses emit shrill ‘profit maximization’ feedback. But from more ambient soundtracks of business leaders past and present can come far richer sounds.

 

Dr Peter S Heslam
Peter directs Transforming Business and Faith in Business in Cambridge.

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Comments

  1. Indeed, a good business model – the owner of the successful organic Veg Box company, Riverford, handed over to his employees recently too: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/apr/07/riverford-organic-veg-employee-ownership-plan

    By Charlotte Smith - 24th May 2019
  2. Thanks Peter,

    Agreed a great way to hand on the Legacy of great Christian values, giving a golden opportunity for future flourishing. It has been a privilege to assist The Rooflight Company in its business sale to Employee Ownership see their case study https://bit.ly/2HOQUC8

    By James Shand - 24th May 2019
  3. Yes, it is an inspirational example

    By Angela Somerton - 24th May 2019
  4. As a teenager, long before I ran a business, I was greatly impacted by Ronald Sider’s book, “Rich Christians in an age of Hunger”, and by parts of the epistle of James about employers, and the general teaching about justice, poverty & wealth throughout the Bible. Having led my former company, Flowstore Systems, through transition into an EO business in 2017 after 33 yrs at the helm, I feel it’s a great model to recommend. There’s of course no guarantees in the world of business, but so far all the key benefits of EO seem to be there – efficiency, staff loyalty and engagement, improving business statistics and so on. In addition we now have a more active CSR policy, whereby several charities are supported. In a multicultural staff force, where only a few percent would claim any Christian faith, it’s great to see almost everyone doing better, feeling more valued, and sharing more in the proceeds of success. Our model also provides share ownership, which I trust will bring other long term rewards to our best asset – the employee team.

    By Simon Dennis - 24th May 2019
  5. Excellent article Peter. The common good is served by shared ownership because it brings stakeholders into closer cooperation. Thank you for highlighting this.

    By Paul Valler - 24th May 2019
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