Mini-cast 155: Nigel Mason Celebrated



Bret Keisling celebrates the life and legacy of Nigel Mason, one of the UK’s leading employee ownership advocates, who tragically passed away this year after a short illness. Graeme Nuttall, OBE shares a heartfelt and personal tribute.


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Mini-cast 155 Transcript

[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling, and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership. On Thursday, October 7th, 2021, Nigel Mason was laid to rest at a funeral service in England. For decades, Nigel has been one of the UK's leading advocates for employee ownership. Coincidentally, the day before his funeral, I spent more than two hours recording upcoming podcast episodes with Graeme Nuttall, OBE, about Graeme's amazing work in the UK and internationally to grow employee ownership. We'll be bringing you those episodes with Graeme Nuttall OBE in the next few weeks.


As we were beginning to wrap up recording, Graeme asked to acknowledge the organizations and individuals in the UK who've been instrumental with him in creating so much progress. At the end and with great emotion, Graeme shared his thoughts about Nigel and the fact that we were recording the day before his funeral. I'm going to tell you a little more about Nigel Mason, but first, here's Graeme Nuttall in this excerpt from an upcoming podcast.


[00:01:07] Graeme Nuttall, OBE: And yes, there is one person in particular that I would like to mention. Nigel Mason. Sorry. It's difficult for me to mention the name. It's his funeral tomorrow. He's a contemporary of mine. We've shared many an adventure in employee ownership over the years, and he has made a considerable contribution to the development of employee ownership in the UK.


In particular, on the numbers. He's an entrepreneurial mathematician by training. He's entrepreneurial. He brought an amazingly different perspective to developing employee ownership in the UK. And if you look at the statistics, the counting of the number of employee ownership trusts we have, you can look at the Employee Ownership Share Index that ran for a while. It was Nigel Mason who was behind that.


And he tragically died this year after a short illness. And so yeah, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to him and we will certainly include some references to his work in the materials available after this podcast.


[00:02:10] Bret Keisling: After Nigel Mason passed his firm, RM2, issued a statement that included a quick look at Nigel's career achievements written in his own words. And I'd like to share a little bit of that.


"Nigel's career in employee ownership began more than 30 years ago, when as an idealistic young man, he decided to abandon his well-paid, but ultimately unrewarding job in a large bank for an initially unpaid, but much more rewarding job in a small not-for-profit loan fund for workers' co-operatives [.... That] fund still exists today under the name of Co-operative and Community Finance and has lent many millions of pounds and sustained thousands of jobs in the small but vibrant workers' co-operatives sector."

Again, in Nigel's own words, "there was an element of nepotism to the [role with that co-operative]: the founder [of the co-operative] in 1973 was Nigel's father-in-law, but nepotism that lands you an unpaid job is of questionable value." I love his sense of humor.


So, after a number of years as a micro lender to small co-ops, Nigel became interested in the emerging field of ESOPs and at some point he won a scholarship and he was able to travel to the United States to study US ESOPs. When he returned, he founded Capital Strategies, which was a firm that advised and sourced financing for large-scale employee buyouts.


In 1999, Nigel was asked by then Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown to join a small group of specialists advising on the development of two new share schemes to help improve UK's lackluster productivity record. One of the schemes was to broaden ownership for all employees in companies of all sizes. This became the Share Incentive Plan [SIP] which remains well-used today after nearly 20 years.


Nigel was involved with a number of businesses in the early 2000s. From 2009 to 2011, Nigel served as part-time policy director of the Employee Ownership Association. In that capacity, he worked hard on a number of efforts, one of which led to the introduction of the tax efficient Employee Ownership Trust in 2014.


Nigel returned to employee ownership himself in 2015, leading the buyout of RM2 from its former owners. RM2 has since become a leading advisor in employee ownership trusts and transitioned itself to full employee ownership in March 2019.


When I decided to feature Nigel Mason on this Mini-cast, I reached out to Graeme Nuttall to let him know. He sent me an email that contained lots of wonderful information about Nigel Mason's work. I wanted to share one excerpt if I may.

Nigel enjoyed analyzing employee ownership, but from a practical and entrepreneurial viewpoint. He could, for example, see the need early on for data on employee ownership to help promote its benefits and make them real. So, Nigel developed the idea of the Employee Ownership Index that would track whether UK listed companies with significant employee share ownership perform better than the typical listed company. And, being Nigel, it went beyond being an idea. He and his colleagues at the firm he co-founded, Capital Strategies, put it into practice.


This was a lot of work because each company in the index needed to be found. There's never been any sort of official register of companies with employee ownership in the UK. The index proved what it set out to prove: that companies with employee ownership consistently perform better.


One Nuttall Review initiative was to get support and publicity for the index from the London Stock Exchange. In 2013, worldwide respected FTSE International validated Nigel's work according to FTSE methodologies. The index is no longer maintained. The UK focus has switched to private company, majority employee ownership, but it's a great example of Nigel's influence.


For many years, the index was the only statistic we had to demonstrate the positive impact of scaled up employee ownership. Needless to say, Nigel captured the data on the recent growth in UK private company employee ownership with the UK Employee Ownership Top 50 and the annual EOT Survey.


I don't wish to be presumptuous, but I believe that if Nigel Mason were in America, or I were in England, we probably would've known each other, he may have been on the podcast and I suspect we would've gotten along quite well. Nigel Mason's work in the United Kingdom is as critical as the same work that we have in the United States that I've talked about with many guests on the podcast.


We know anecdotally that employee ownership is the best model for most businesses. But the work of Nigel Mason and his colleagues around the world helped provide the data that gave the rest of us a story to tell.


Finally, a condolence book was opened for Nigel. It's available online. There's a forward and it closed with a thought that I thought was very lovely on someone's passing.


"Nigel will never be gone from our hearts and thoughts. His legacy sits with more people than those who contribute to this [condolence] book. The many employees who have better opportunities in the businesses they work for as a result of him championing employee ownership, the boards he has sat on and helped shape our industry and share best practice, as well as the very many people he has trained, worked and collaborated with. We are all the better for Nigel being in our lives.


We love you Nigel."


To all of Nigel Mason's loved ones, his family, his friends, to all of his colleagues in employee ownership, our hearts are with you. We wanted to take this time to celebrate his life, because even though we haven't met, I've benefited from his work just as all the employee ownership advocates around the world have. When the time comes for all of us, may we be mourned as Nigel is for a job well done.


Thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.

[00:08:18] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network, production assistance by Victoria Huerta, original music composed by Max Keisling, branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design, and I'm Bitsy McCann.


Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.


A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Descript, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The EsOp Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.