Having handed over Melin Tregwynt to the 110-year-old woollen mill’s staff, Amanda Griffiths has no doubts that it was the best decision for the future of the Pembrokeshire business.
The company has become the latest Welsh firm to switch to an employee-owned model, leaving Amanda and husband Eifion to take a step back after more than three decades at the helm.
The couple and their firm’s 42 members of staff were supported through the change by the Social Business Wales programme, delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre, and law firm Geldards.
A transition consultant was also brought in to help manage the transition to an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) – the number of employee-owned businesses grows by 10 per cent each year.
John Lewis, Unipart and, in Wales, Tregroes Waffles and Cwmni Da are among the UK businesses which are now owned by their employees.
“It probably took longer than it would have done because of Covid,” said Amanda, pictured above.
“We started the conversations in 2019 and were all set to start moving in 2020 when Covid hit, so we had a 12-month period where nothing happened.
“Although we picked it up again last year, we’re probably about 18 months behind where we would have been.
“As soon as we were able to pick up the pieces again, Wales Co-operative came in, met the staff and talked them through how it would work so there was an understanding at management level.
“Once we decided that was the route we would follow, the solicitors did a workshop with everybody.”
She added: “It’s a very hard thing to do, and I’m incredibly grateful to Wales Co-operative for the support they gave us in talking through some of the other options apart from a straight trade sale.
“Because the more you can think about different options the better judgement you can make at the end of the day.
“We also had a lot of help from the solicitors we appointed because they put us in touch with other companies that had done it.
“And they were very willing and open to share where they felt they got it right and where they felt they had made mistakes.
“What everybody said to just keep talking to the staff so they know they will always have their questions answered, it’s completely transparent and you want to do it for everybody’s benefit.
“People eventually get that and see the benefit of it.
“It’s just understanding what it’s about. A lot of people think ‘we can’t afford to buy into the company’ because they were thinking of a buy-in.
“No individual has a specific share but the shares are held in trust for all of them, so providing they’ve been here for 12 months they get all the benefits of that.
“It’s understanding that it’s not a huge difference and they don’t have to put any money in, but they do have a stake in the company nevertheless.”
Speaking during the latest Welsh Business Heroes webinar, Amanda announced that she and Eifion, whose grandfather set-up the business in 1912, are reducing their time at the coalface.
She said: “We were incredibly privileged that Eifion’s parents handed the business to us and we’ve been able to develop it to where it is today.
“Eventually, you accept that you aren’t getting any younger and you may start to become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.”
Amanda added: “Our staff are all local and their roots go deep as well, the skills are specialist, so there’s all those things that come together that make it a really special thing which should be preserved.
“It’s not just Eifion and I, it’s everybody here who does their bit to make people feel welcome, make customers feel they are being looked after, and produce fantastic products.
“It’s very difficult to put yourself in a position where you just take the money and ran and left everybody at somebody else’s mercy because they are so much a part of what the business is about and what it represents. To me, it is a family in that sense.”
She continued: “Hopefully, over the next two to three years, we’ll be able to step out as other people step up and step in, that’s our goal.
“We have to have the vision for the company over the next three to five years that everybody buys into, then we have to look at those targets and where we’re achieving them, and where we’re not, and whether we’ve got the right people.
“It’s a deep understanding for everybody to know where they are comfortable and where they want to be as well.”
You can watch the whole Welsh Business Heroes webinar, a joint venture between NatWest, Landsker Business Solutions and Newsquest, featuring Amanda Griffiths here.