The 50 staff at a television company being turned into a mini-John Lewis have given their unanimous backing to the idea that’s making history in the broadcast industry.
Independent valuers are now being brought in to put a price on Caernarfon-based Cwmni Da which will become an Employee Ownership Trust.
The owner and sole shareholder, Dylan Huws, is handing over company ownership to the workforce in a move that will cement the £5 million a year firm’s future in the town.
As part of the deal that’s a first in the UK television industry, he will sell his shares to the new trust which is being set up to look after employees’ interests.
Experts from the Wales Cooperative Centre are project managing the transfer of ownership and legal advice is being provided by the Cardiff-based law firm, Geldards.
Representatives from both organisations were on hand to answer questions at a staff information day at the company’s headquarters next door to Galeri on Victoria Dock.
The high-profile company makes some of the best-loved programmes on S4C, including Noson Lawen, Deian a Loli, Dim Byd and Ffit Cymru.
Among their latest projects is a cookery series with internet sensation Chris Roberts, Bwyd Epic Chris, and an international co-production with Scottish independent company Mac TV and LIC, the biggest independent TV production company in China, with whom they are making a series on the world’s tides.
According to Paul Cantrill, private sector lead at the Wales Cooperative Centre, employee-owned companies generally do better than others.
He said: “I think it is absolutely stupendous news for Cwmni Da, all of the employees and most of all for Wales.
“This will help preserve and give a basis for future growth to a very important Welsh company.
“The Employee Ownership Association have their own share index with which they compare the FTSE 100 and employee owned companies in terms of profitability.
“All the statistics show that employee owned companies outperform companies not owned by employees.
“This should give the team at Cwmni Da confidence going forward.
“Employee Ownership will work really well at Cwmni Da because of its ethos and beliefs and there’s a great deal of enthusiasm which can only lead to better things for the company.
“Things are already going very well and I think they will get better because of the way the enthusiasm is harnessed in the employee ownership approach.”
Producer and writer Angharad Elen has been appointed as a representative on the trust which looks after the employees’ interests.
She said: “It’s good news. I’d much prefer seeing something like this happening to Cwmni Da and that the company stays local and that its values stay the same.
“It’s a lot better than seeing the company being sold to an outside entity as has happened to other Welsh television production companies.
“It’s important that Cwmni Da keeps its identity, its uniqueness, and I think this is a good way to ensure that.”
Camera operator and sound recordist Sion Bailey Hughes said: “It just shows how much respect Dylan has for the staff. It’s a vote of confidence in us as a team.
“Everyone works hard but this gives a different kind of incentive. It’s important to look at how we can help people in the company to work closer with each other now.”
It was a sentiment echoed by digital director Phil Stead who said: “We like living here, we like our jobs here and Cwmni Da is very important to the economy of this area.
“Everyone likes to think that they can profit from the work that they put in and I think establishing Employee Ownership will drive people to be even better at their jobs.”
Since last December Mr Huws has been the sole owner of the company after his fellow directors Neville Hughes and Ifor ap Glyn decided to step down. Both still work closely with the company with Neville Hughes currently leading on a number of key projects. Mr Huws, 59, will be staying on during the transition period.
As part of the process, the head of production finance, Bethan Griffiths, who has been a member of staff since 2007, and financial consultant Alun Lewis from BIC Innovation Limited, have already joined Mr Huws on the board of Cwmni Da.
Mr Huws was encouraged by the positive reaction of the staff at the information day.
He said: “There has been a lot of enthusiasm and lots of questions. People are hungry for more information about structures and how it’s going to work, and obviously how it’s going to affect their work from day to day. It’s a process that needs time and nurturing.
“But for Cwmni Da it’s business as usual, we need to keep focused on our day to day work in a challenging environment. The fact that people feel ownership of what they’re doing will give everybody an added incentive that will drive future success.
“The commercial value will be assessed by independent outside parties because in order to make this all work I have to sell over 50 per cent which is the controlling share.
“After that I won’t be the owner of the company anymore but I’ll be staying on to provide leadership, and stability in order to help make it happen. This is a process not an event.
“The staff are the people with the talent who drive Cwmni Da forward and the future will be in their hands.”