Justin Cooper is the Chief Executive Officer of Shareholder Solutions at Link Asset Services.
In what ways does employee share ownership serve a useful purpose?
Having worked in the share plans world for approaching 30 years now, the obvious answer is ‘aligning the needs of the shareholder and the employee’. In simple terms, I see this as giving an employee a vested interest in the business that they work for. Never a bad thing.
How can we widen and deepen the adoption and use of employee share ownership?
I think the big challenge we have nowadays is simple apathy. Employee share ownership is so embedded in the overall remuneration strategy that we are no longer pushing for ‘corporate adoption’. What I do think we can do better on is ‘employee adoption’… so working harder to get take-up rates higher. I see this as a real challenge given that the probable target audience will be that group of employees trying to save to get on the property ladder, etc. and have low disposable income – so communication is completely key. It comes as no surprise to me that the companies with the highest rates of take-up are those who are the most ingenious with the ways that that they create excitement in plan launches, celebrate successes at maturity and as importantly, provide regular comms in between these events.
What would you tell someone who is ‘on the fence’ about introducing employee share ownership to their company?
Look at the stats. Engaged workforces try harder, achieve more and generally these are the places that people want to work at. Employee share plans form an important part of the overall employee rem package… and companies that have them tend to outperform those that don’t.
What do you think will change about employee share ownership over the next five years?
I think digital comms will become even more important and ‘self-service’ the norm. I don’t think that plan designs will change at all-employee level as in the UK we are fortunate to have both a vibrant option plan (SAYE) and stock plan (SIP). At exec level, these will continue to evolve… but that has been the case for the past 5 years, last decade and so on.
What do you wish other people knew about employee share ownership?
That putting in a plan is only the first stage of creating success… making sure that your employees understand it, embrace it and get value from it is the real challenge.
What has been the most important development in employee share ownership during your career?
Without doubt, the introduction of SIP in 2000.
Why do you think employee share ownership has enjoyed cross-party support in the UK?
Simple. We are a capitalist country with a value set of trying hard and wanting to achieve. I think employee share ownership ticks all the boxes- ‘I try hard and help the company be successful and grow…and I get rewarded through share price growth and my involvement in a share plan’. Real win/win stuff.
Who would be the guest of honour at your fantasy dinner party?
David Niven – a great actor and a real character in an era of change in the world of film. My most enjoyed autobiography – a real laugh.
Which book has most changed your life?
‘White Fang’ by Jack London – an old book written a hundred years ago… I read it as a kid and I think it was a real ‘coming of age book’ to the extent of moving from simple stuff to a read that makes you think and/or shows you very different situations to those that you have experience in or are comfortable with.
What is your favourite quote and why?
Has to be the ‘Fight them on the beaches…’ speech by Churchill. I think people generally love to be lead and few people actually excel at true leadership. Churchill was absolutely the right man at the right time for our country.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Simple stuff. Kids, family… getting the right balance between work and home life (not always achieved!).
How do you relax?
Pubs, wine, good restaurants, golf and Brighton & Hove Albion. (The latter is seldom stress free…!).