Sarah leads the strategic and operational development of Co-operative Development Scotland. She proactively promotes co-operative business models by engaging with key stakeholders and the media. Before joining the enterprise network, Sarah held senior management and board positions in strategy, marketing and business development with international companies including Carnaud MetalBox, LinPac Plastics International, Fort Sterling, RBM Europa and Airport Advertising (Europe).
Co-operative Development Scotland was set up in 2006 to increase the contribution of co-operative enterprise to the Scottish economy. CDS is a subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise and has a Scotland-wide remit to promote and facilitate the development of co-operative enterprises.
I met Sarah in the Glasgow offices and started by asking about her path to becoming CEO.
“My background is in business strategy and business development, initially in the packaging industry and later in media and advertising. Around half of my experience has been gained in the public and half in the private sector. I joined Scottish Enterprise in 1995 as a strategy consultant, working with key industry sectors to develop their strategies for growth. My passion has always been to drive businesses forward to build success, particularly through collaboration.”
And how long have you been in this role?
” I’ve been CEO for about 2 years. Having always been persuaded of the positive aspects of collaboration it is the ideal opportunity to take this message into businesses and into communities”
” There are so many opportunities for businesses to work together, to collaborate to gain larger contracts than they could hope to win alone, for example. But it goes further than that. I want to encourage the idea of collaboration within businesses. And beyond that, to bring communities together to drive local economies forward”
How does this work in practice?
“One model that we are keen to support is that of employee-ownership. Currently there are more than 50 employee-owned companies in Scotland, with a combined turnover of more than £700 and employing more than 4,500 people. Employee ownership is a hidden gem at the heart of Scotland’s economy and we would like to see more business owners, senior management teams and advisors think about employee-ownership, particularly when thinking about exiting.”
“When owners look to leave a business the first thought is to sell to the management team or to a competitor but these are not the only options. When businesses are sold to competitors it often takes control of that business out of the local area and maybe out of the country completely. Employee ownership helps local economies by anchoring businesses in the local community. Some of Scotland’s best known businesses, including Tullis Russell, Loch Fyne Oysters and First Milk are co-operatives or employee owned businesses so the model does work really well in practice.”
Companies do not have to change their current structures to benefit from collaboration.
” We encourage companies to form consortia which can bring each member of the group economies of scale when they buy, produce or sell goods, without changing the nature or ownership of the individual businesses. A perfect example of this is Argyll Food Producers. A group of companies came together initially to share the costs of taking a pavilion at T in the Park. Acting alone it would not have been possible for small businesses to afford to do this. Working together they shared the cost of the the pavilion and each sold their own produce at the event.”
“The members of the consortium were able to get to a market that they would be unable to crack on their own and by working together in this way they then found that there were other ways in which they could work together to grow their individual businesses. A valuable bi-product of this collaboration for the local communities is that the companies come together to promote Argyll as a region which has knock on benefits in, for example, tourism to the region.”
Another great example of a successful consortium is Bridges: The Actors’ Agency which has attracted increasing interest and work from theatre companies, broadcast producers and casting agents since starting their consortium co-operative in 2008. Bridges has 11 professional actors working in the world of theatre, radio, television, voice-over, corporate and film. The co-operative allows them to pool their skills and resources while retaining their individual identities and professional repertoire.
“There is a genuine spirit of co-operation among us,” said Bridges member Carrie Mancini. “The acting profession can be very hard and lonely, but in the co-operative you feel supported by a group of like-minded people. With hard work and initial support from CDS, we now have a thriving business to be proud of.” The members are based at different locations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but work co-operatively in a number of ways. This includes sharing responsibility for handling calls and dealing with bookings at the Bridges’ office in Edinburgh’s West End. By working together, each member has increased their income by securing additional work. Bridges member Stanley Pattison says: “As actors, we are all individuals vying for different roles, but as a co-operative we look out for parts that other members might want to undertake.”
And collaboration can bring communities together
“Scotland, particularly in the more northerly regions and islands, has many remote communities. By coming together to develop projects such as wind farms, communities can improve their local economies by generating extra income and keeping jobs in their area. This will protect jobs locally by keeping them grounded in the region, and help smaller communities to survive and make a really valuable contribution to the national economy.”
And the future?
“We are working to raise the awareness of the benefits of collaboration and employee ownership in the business support services. This means working with the Law Society and accountants, for instance, so that they are aware of all of the options open to companies looking to grow and develop, and most particularly so that they are able to fully appraise business owners of their options when they are considering an exit strategy”
CDS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Scottish Enterprise. The organisation was established by the Scottish Government to promote and support the development of co-operative and employee owned business models. It’s remit is to:
* Raise awareness of co-operative business models
* Help new and existing co-operatives to grow
* Develop markets for co-operative businesses
For further information, please visit the CDS website at www.cdscotland.co.uk
(First Published August 2010)