How design corporations are discovering new methods of working

When her co-founder Ben Dale told Joy Nazzari that he wanted to step away from dn&co, the design studio that they had founded together in 2005, she was faced with a dilemma familiar to many others who have started a creative business – what now?

With Dale’s exit, she had become the sole shareholder of the studio. “I started to think about the longer term trajectory here, how do I share the burden of responsibility but also the rewards over time?” she says. Typically, founders of creative businesses, when they reach the point that they want to do something else with their life, either end up closing their studios or selling to a network or other larger entity. “Out of every single one of my peers who went through that, no-one has come out of it without scars and upset,” Nazzari says of the latter option. “I thought, there must be another way.”

There was: in 2019, dn&co became an Employee Ownership Trust, a form of ownership that has proved popular among a wide range of organisations, including many architects’ practices, since it was legislated for by the coalition government in 2014. Under an EOT, the shareholders sell their equity to the Trust whose beneficiaries are the employees. The EOT pays the shareholders back over time: once the debt is paid off, all profits of the company can be distributed among its employees annually. In the meantime, employees can benefit from a £3,600 tax allowance and a profit share.

If the leadership team are making all the decisions by themselves, you are limiting your ability to make good decisions

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