Nigel Mason is a director of the RM2 Partnership.
In what ways does employee share ownership serve a useful purpose?
It works on so many levels. For the individual employee, it’s about recognition, reward and status as an owner. At the team level, it fosters unity of purpose and greater collaboration. For the company as a whole, it improves performance and creates resilience, from which all shareholders benefit. And for society, it spreads wealth and gives people a stake in the economy and a voice at work.
How can we widen and deepen the adoption and use of employee share ownership?
Praise the exemplars and pressurise the laggards. There are some gems amongst private companies. The worst offenders are listed companies and private equity backed companies. Most listed companies pay lip service to employee share ownership and private equity hardly ever does employee share ownership. Companies should be made to report on their adoption of employee share ownership in quantitative terms, not just in pious soundbites, and then we could pile on the pressure.
What would you tell someone on the fence about introducing employee share ownership to their company?
You’ll be better off owning less of a bigger and happier business, and you’ll feel better too.
What do you think will change about employee share ownership over the next five years?
It will become much more widespread in private companies, thanks to the availability of the Employee Ownership Trust.
What has been the most important development in employee share ownership during your career?
If the emphasis is on employee share ownership, I would say Gordon Brown’s SIP and EMI in 2000.
Which change to employee share plans legislation, in the UK or elsewhere, would you most like to see?
Allow company contributions to Employee Ownership Trusts to be tax deductible if they are used to buy shares or repay EOT debt. Here’s the justification. By allowing interest on loans to be tax deductible, the tax system encourages companies to borrow, hence we see highly leveraged private equity buyouts. This originates from a time when debt was used to buy equipment, so it was meant as an incentive for companies to invest. Nowadays, debt is introduced into capital structures to magnify the returns to existing shareholders. Think of the effect on equity in a house when the home owner has a huge mortgage and house prices rise. So the taxpayer is effectively subsidising rising returns to existing owners of capital. Instead, it should be subsidising the creation of new capital for new owners. So we should limit or eliminate the tax deductibility of interest on loans to companies, and instead allow company contributions to EOTs to buy shares or repay debt to be tax deductible. This will spread new wealth, which is politically more palatable than redistributing existing wealth. Look what happened in 2016 because we have allowed wealth to over-concentrate and too many people are losers to capitalism (for which also read “globalisation”) rather than gainers.
Why do you think employee share ownership has enjoyed cross-party support in the UK?
The bottom line is that it’s popular with the punters and politicians like to be popular. It’s also good for society’s acceptance of capitalism, which we need to keep the lights on, albeit heavily reformed.
Which aspect of the Esop Centre do you most value?
It’s a broad church.
Which aspect of the Esop Centre would you most like to change?
Its profile. It’s too low.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
They say the happiest people don’t pursue happiness as a goal. So I would climb a remote Scottish Munro and see what happens.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m quite focused. My friends call me a “one trick pony” because I keep returning to employee ownership. I’m quite happy with that.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Everyone is immensely proud of their kids but I should say something distinctive. I would say advising HMRC on the design of SIP and EMI in 1999, and founding Co-operative Energy in 2010.
What historical figure do you most identify with?
I think Karl Marx will be proved right about the end of capitalism unless we radically reform it. I’m not sure I identify with him, though.
Which living person do you most admire?
Admire? Staying with Germans, I would say Angela Merkel. Now there’s a surprise. Sorry Mrs Mason. Her stance on refugees was amazing if not politically costly. There’s a deficit of leadership in public life because we put our leaders on very high pedestals and take sadistic pleasure in kicking them off. We need to be kinder and less hypocritical. I doubt that will happen.
Who are your heroes in real life?
I love satirists and comedians. Humour is an amazing gift and a powerful weapon. So I’ll choose Randy Newman, Dr John Cooper Clarke and Peter Kay.
Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
It’s health and safety gone mad.
What is your most treasured possession?
Honestly, I don’t give a monkeys about stuff. It clutters up the cupboards and you can’t take it with you. If I had to save one object in a fire it would be my iPhone. I wouldn’t miss much else.