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Black Light began as a mobile disco, and now works on high profile light installations such as Glasgow’s SSE Hydro. The company moved to employee ownership in June 2016: founder Gavin Stewart explains how.

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I had never heard of employee ownership before. I was looking to exit my business and had looked at just closing the business down, or seeking out a trade buyer. It didn’t make sense to close down a good, profitable company. Selling to the trade was not appealing; a nearby competitor sold out and the workforce was basically destroyed. I saw the stress this caused them and also many of my own staff were upset. 

It was one of those moments when you just know something is right.

Gavin Stewart, founder of Black Light

Discovering employee ownership

I attended a seminar at our lawyers’ offices in May 2015. The topic was selling the business to the employees and right away, I knew I had to find out more. I arranged to meet with one of the speakers, Carole Leslie, and she talked me through how employee ownership could work for Black Light. It was one of those moments when you just know something is right. I could not see any negatives.

Co-operative Development Scotland commissioned a Succession Review and this reinforced to me that employee ownership was the right way forward for Black Light. I discussed my plans with the management team and it was hugely encouraging to hear they shared my enthusiasm.

Positive employee reaction

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Black Light's installation at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

I broke the news to the rest of the employees. I told them I had decided to sell the business – to them. What’s more, it would not cost them anything, as individuals. As the stunned silence subsided and the news began to sink in, the reaction was very positive.

We held several communication meetings with the workforce. It was important to me that if Black Light was to be their company, then they should have input into how it would work as an employee-owned business. There were a lot of questions and I think we have a good outcome. We held keenly fought elections for the posts of Employee Director and Employee Trustees.

Brilliant company, excellent people

Once the decision was made, the process took around six months and we completed the deal on 1 June 2016. It was not without some trepidation that I signed the final documents transferring my ownership into an Employee Ownership Trust. I know I’ve done the right thing. This is a brilliant company, with exceptional people. They deserve to own the business. I’ll still be around for guidance; it’s now up to the employees to create their future. Truth is the signing of the documents was the start of the journey and not the end…

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