The owners of Aardman animation, home to Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit, are handing over a 75 per cent stake in the business to their 140 employees to protect the company’s independence.
According to reports published this weekend the leading animation company’s owners Peter Lord and David Sproxton are funding the employee ownership scheme out of the company’s cash reserves.
Employees will own their majority stake in the business via a trust, similar to the way the John Lewis Partnership is organised.
In what Lord describes as a “continuity deal” the 140 employees and freelancers, of which there are currently 180 working for Aardman, will also continue to receive a share of profits.
Anyone who has worked for the company for at least three months of any financial year is entitled to a bonus. Staff will have an input into the running Aardman via a workers council, while the senior team will sit on a new board of directors, which will lead the business and decide on the staff bonus, reporting to the trust’s board.
Lord and Sproxton are set to receive a multimillion-pound payout as part of the deal, under which they will together continue to own a quarter of Aardman Holdings, the company’s parent group.
The company is aiming to appoint a replacement for Sproxton, who acts as managing director, within the next year after which he will step back to become a consultant to the business.
Lord will remain in his role as creative director for the company for up to five years, but a new creative head of feature films will be hired.
The duo told The Guardian this weekend that employee ownership will foster a culture of creative ideas and ways of working as staff a stake in the company’s future, while retaining its independence.
“In an age of uncertainty, there is a sense of security as our staff know their job is safe as long as they come up with ideas,” Sproxton said.
“If we sold Aardman to a big studio, it would just become an asset on the balance sheet to be traded. They could say, ’let’s turn it all over to CGI and shoot it in Singapore.’”