Edinburgh consultant engineers sold to staff

David Narro
David Narro

Scottish consultant structural and civil engineering firm David Narro Associates (DNA) has become the country’s latest employee-owned business.

David Narro established the company in 1986, taking it from humble beginnings to one of the industry’s most trusted businesses, employing 30 people between its Edinburgh and Glasgow offices.

With David planning to retire in about five years’ time, he wanted to ensure his legacy was protected and opted to follow in the footsteps of John Lewis, the UK’s best-known employee-owned business.

DNA – the company behind the structural alterations supporting the £27 million refurbishment of the National Museum in Edinburgh – has now sold 80 per cent of shares to employees via an Employee Ownership Trust. The remainder will be made available to staff for purchase directly as part of a share incentive scheme.

Co-operative Development Scotland supported the move by providing advice and guidance on the new structure, while Baxendale provided the feasibility study as well as legal, financial and employee engagement advice throughout the process.

Explaining the decision to move to employee ownership, David said: “I didn’t just want to retire. I wanted to make sure the company itself would continue without me. The best way to do that was to allow the employees who know the business so well to take it forward – they are just as responsible for its success as anyone.

“The way I have run the practice has always been co-operative, so employee ownership is a natural fit for the company’s future.”

Amanda Douglas, DNA’s practice manager and now an employee-owner, added: “David has kept us involved every step of the way and it is an exciting time not just for the business, but for everyone who works here.

“Knowing that each of us will play a vital role in the practice’s long-term success has given us all an extra incentive to do well.”

The final decision to hand control of DNA to its employees was taken in 2012 after David attended a half-day seminar run by Co-operative Development Scotland.

He said: “The seminar was really helpful and for me it was the final nudge I needed towards employee ownership. It was great to hear first-hand from those who have gone through the process what the benefits were and how it affected them.”

Sarah Deas, chief executive of Co-operative Development Scotland, said: “This is terrific news for David Narro Associates. For David, it is the ideal succession route, knowing the future of the company he built from scratch is in safe hands – as well as protecting the jobs he helped create.”

Ewan Hall, legal director at Baxendale, who led the transition at DNA, said: “It has been great working with the team at David Narro Associates. This transition was not just about the transfer of ownership, but also broadening participation and responsibility throughout the organisation.”

David’s enthusiasm for the model has been strengthened by the progress of long-time collaborators Page\Park. The Glasgow-based architectural practice became employee-owned in December 2013 and has already seen an improvement in productivity as well as staff engagement.

He added: “The response within the company has been very positive and we’re looking forward to the next few years with a great deal of optimism.”

The transition of businesses such as DNA to employee ownership has been boosted by the introduction of new tax reliefs earlier this year.

These reliefs mean owners who sell their businesses into such structures pay less tax, while the business can distribute profits to employees in a more tax-efficient manner.

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