Hats off to the Richer guy

I’ve always been a fan of Richer Sounds. When I was 12 it was because it sold good hifi, really cheap. In my 30’s I started to notice that it was an organisation that did great customer service. The staff seemed to be enjoying themselves. I remember standing in an orderly queue in the street outside the old Cambridge store, waiting my turn to grab a bargain at the annual clearance sale, sipping a coffee and nibbling a biscuit that the Richer Sounds staff had handed out, everyone either enjoying being kind or enjoying the kindness on offer.

And now I’m a bigger fan than ever, having read that the company’s founder, Julian Richer, has sold a controlling stake of the firm to an employee ownership trust. It is now owned, indirectly, by its employees.

Image: Rept0n1x, (CC BY-SA 3.0).

I say a bigger fan than ever, because indirect employee ownership (I’ll use the acronym iEO, though I suspect I’m the only one doing so) is also something I’ve admired for years. In fact, I thought iEO seemed like a great idea before I knew it was possible. This was at the time Team was facing the challenge of creating good exits for its own founding fathers and I saw considerable benefits to finding those exits without creating the next set of direct owners, needing their own future exits in turn.

Julian Richer had come to understand the importance of his colleagues to the success of his business

Unfortunately, at that time I didn’t pursue my thoughts and I remained ignorant of iEO until much later, when Team engaged with the excellent Employee Ownership Association. But since then I’ve come to appreciate that iEO has the potential to be much more than a convenient, tax-efficient exit route and a sustainable ownership model free of the demands of future exits. iEO provides a stable base on which to build an organisation that puts the best forms of human collaboration at its heart, an opportunity to build an organisation that is a great place for individuals to live and grow, together.

All this is illustrated in the Richer Sounds story. Julian Richer had come to understand the importance of his colleagues to the success of his business, as discussed in his first book “The Richer Way” back in 1996. He understood business success as a collective achievement. He has now put his money where his mouth/pen is, distributing more than a third of the proceeds of the sale of his stake directly to his colleagues. This amounts to £3.5m he wanted to share with all those who had contributed to his good fortune, in the 40 years since he took his first individual entrepreneurial step.

I am off now, to read Mr Richer’s books in the hope of improving my understanding and challenging my thinking on what it is that iEO provides opportunity for: how to put people at the heart of all we do.

How could it meaningfully be any different?

But before I go, I feel like sharing a quote from one of the Guardian interviews of Mr Richer: “I’ve been on this gold-plated treadmill for 40 years.” That made me smile. A quirky statement of gratitude.

Hats off to Mr Richer. I am a fan.

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