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By Mairead Walsh on 3 May 2024

Wolfgang Digital has become the first Irish-owned company to transition to employee ownership through an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT), following the renowned "John Lewis model."

The "Wolfgang Talent Trust" established on May 3rd, 2024, marks a significant shift, with employees of over 12 months becoming partners in the Trust. This move empowers employees, granting them a voice in decision-making processes and fostering a sense of ownership. 

Founder and CEO Alan Coleman highlighted the transformative impact of this shift, emphasising the shift from renter to owner mentality among employees. Adopting an employee ownership model introduces a democratic framework within Wolfgang Digital, with elected representatives playing a key role in decision-making. He had this to say:

“Many of the young people who work in Wolfgang fear they’ll never own where they live. They now own where they work. Because the gang now has skin in the game, their relationship with their workplace has changed from renter to owner. I believe this will improve performance at work and the business will grow in strength.”

Pictured - Wolfgang Digital's newly elected employee reps with CEO Alan Coleman. Left to right - Chris Bury, Rob Beirne, Shreya Barua, Stephen Murphy, Niamh O'Doherty,  Ian Booth, and Alan Coleman.

Under the Wolfgang Partners initiative, employees will receive regular profit shares every three months, further aligning their interests with the company's success. Additionally, a portion of the company's profits will be reinvested annually to facilitate the Trust's gradual acquisition of majority ownership within a decade.

Adopting an employee ownership model also introduces a democratic framework within Wolfgang Digital. Each team has elected a representative who can bring their insights and suggestions to decision-makers. Moreover, employee representatives will play a pivotal role in electing trust board members, ensuring that employee interests remain at the forefront of strategic decisions.

Incorporating employee ownership activities such as the "Wolves Den," where employees contribute ideas for innovation budget allocation, underscores Wolfgang Digital's commitment to fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation. Importantly, the company's constitution now mandates that operations prioritise long-term employee benefits, a stark departure from the traditional focus on maximising shareholder wealth.

Contrary to conventional notions of success being tied to selling out to larger entities, Wolfgang's journey toward employee ownership represents a redefinition of success according to CEO Alan Coleman: 

“We’ve had many opportunities to sell out to international acquirers. I’ve learned from these conversations that the sell-out is designed to extract value from the company. Selling out doesn't feel like success to me, it feels like death, the death of the dream.
On the other hand, the sell-in to employees creates value for all stakeholders in the business. There is a win-win-win for people, customers, and society. Personally, I love the legacy aspect of employee ownership. Our precious vision and values are now legally enshrined in our constitution forever more.”

The appointment of Graeme Nuttall OBE, a well-known advocate of employee ownership, as the independent Chairperson of the Wolfgang Talent Trust underscores the significance of this transition. Nuttall's expertise and advocacy will encourage a broader acceptance and adoption of employee ownership models in Ireland, potentially establishing a thriving ecosystem of employee-owned enterprises.

Wolfgang Digital's groundbreaking shift to employee ownership marks a significant milestone in Ireland's business environment. By adopting a model focused on empowering employees and ensuring long-term sustainability, Wolfgang Digital not only cements its legacy but also establishes a blueprint for other companies to replicate. As the idea of employee ownership gains momentum globally, Wolfgang Digital stands out as a leader in innovation and inclusivity, redefining the future of work.

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