Award-winning communications agency the Orchard Media and Events Group is setting up an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), one of a small number of Welsh pioneers who are following well-known brands such as John Lewis Partnership, Aardman, and Riverford in putting the business in the hands of its 70 strong team to protect its future independence.

Orchard has been providing a range of creative communications services to clients in Wales and across the world for 14 years, from Welsh Government to Principality Building Society, Aston Martin and Qatar Airways to Nando’s, the AA and Netflix. The agency creates corporate and public events for NATO, UEFA, and Johnson & Johnson; produces film content for Visit Wales, TV programmes for BBC, S4C, Channel 4, and National Geographic; and advises on sponsorships and partnerships for the likes of the RFU, the International Chamber of Commerce, and Orbex.

With the original founders moving on, the ownership of the business will be transferred to Orchard’s staff from October 1st this year, when an employee-owned trust will own and manage the company, the latest Welsh business to take this increasingly popular corporate route.

Orchard co-founder and outgoing Operations Director Al Wilson said: “When we looked at the options for succession planning, the EOT model stood out for us as a way to repay the hard work and commitment of the team here, and give them this huge opportunity to take Orchard into an exciting future. The ethos behind EOTs aligns well with the values we’ve nurtured in the company, and we know that the leadership and wider team are the people best placed to benefit from its future success.

“We‘re grateful to Andrew Evans at Geldards and Paul Cantrill, a Corporate Advisor with Cwmpas for their specialist EOT knowledge and invaluable support in getting us to this point.”

EOTs are becoming an increasing popular way to keep corporate ownership within the country of origin, in this case Wales, to secure jobs and provide more opportunities for talent to build their careers here.

Andrew Evans, a Cardiff Partner with Geldards LLP is hugely experienced in taking companies through EOT across the UK. Andrew said: “Geldards is delighted to be trusted with advising on the transition of Orchard to employee ownership. The shareholders, management team and employees have been very receptive to the idea of employee ownership and a desire to adopt “best practice” in terms of employee engagement to make the transition a success and the basis for future growth in the business.”

While ownership changes, it’s very much business as usual for the agency, with the current senior management team keeping hold of the reins, and a new Group Board bringing the skills and experience of a number of senior corporate figures to drive the firm’s strategic direction.

Joint chief executive Jim Carpenter said: “We’ve had a great reaction to the news from the team that’s built the business – they recognise the EOT protects Orchard’s  independence, sustains our successful working practices and values that might have been compromised in a trade sale, and avoids businesses coming in from outside to asset-strip the company.”

The EOT transfers ownership of the company to a trust, whose trustees of senior figures within Orchard and independent specialists will look after the interests of all employees. Current shareholders will be re-imbursed over time, proportionate to the financial performance of the agency, which will also influence the level of bonuses available to employees. There is no cost or liability for individual workers, but instead a great incentive to ensure the business continues to thrive.

Welsh Government is looking to double the number of businesses in Wales that are employee-owned by 2026 (from 2022), and supports the Employee Ownership Wales service at the development agency Cwmpas to ensure Wales-based companies remain in Welsh hands.

Orchard is an RAR+ Top 100 agency, winner of both Drum and Drum Recommends awards and has been included in the Drum Top Independent Agencies. Last year Orchard’s ‘Cymru i’r Byd, Wales to the World’ integrated, multi-lingual, multi-platform campaign promoting the nation’s appearance at the 2022 FIFA World Cup scooped both the prestigious Grand Prix and the Travel & Tourism World Media Awards.