Skip to main content

Talk to us: 0333 004 4488 |

Employee Ownership Day: Q&A with C21 Creative Communications

4 min read


Employee Ownership Day QA with C21 Creative Communications

To celebrate Employee Ownership Day in the UK, we sat down with Christina Clarke, founder of Manchester-based creative communications and digital agency C21 to hear why it became an employee-owned business.

According to the latest figures from the Employee Ownership Association, there are more than 700 employee-owned businesses in the UK.

The employee ownership trust (EOT) model safeguards successful cultures within firms, rewards staff and provides a framework for long-term growth. This, among other reasons, is why we’re seeing continued interest from boards and owner-managers who want to secure the future independence of their business.

One of these businesses is C21, whose founder and owner, Christina Clarke recently took the decision to put the future of her £1m+ turnover business in the hands of its employees by establishing an EOT. C21’s employees now share a 100% stake in the business.

Brabners: Christina, why did you decide employee ownership was right for the future of C21?

Christina: Employee ownership has helped to provide a structured succession plan for the agency and, more importantly, preserved its independence for the team which has built it.

I’ve been approached by numerous trade buyers over the past 20 years. They always seemed so much more interested in the agency’s client base than anything else. While understandable, it wasn’t something I ever felt comfortable with. I was conscious that no trade buyer could truly guarantee the future of my team or maintain our agency’s values.

Pursuing an EOT has preserved that independence and meant I haven’t had to leave the business right away; enabling me to structure and oversee a successful transition before stepping into the role of chair in future. The whole process becomes a steady and collaborative evolution, rather than an almighty rug pull.

Why was it the right time for you and C21?

Employee ownership was the clear and obvious future for our business – protecting our independence and providing the stability of a clear and gradual transition to new leadership. It’s also far more equitable for everyone. We’ve just had another record year in terms of turnover so we’re taking this step when the business is at the top of its game. We’ve also recently refurbished our office and will be launching our rebrand soon – the EOT feels like another positive way to invest in the future of the business.

This is a landmark moment and, for my team, rewards almost 25 years of teamwork, passion and dedication to supporting our clients. It provides an opportunity for each of them to cement their positions in the business and take the next step in their careers. This is their time.

Did you experience any challenges you perhaps weren’t expecting?

I think the emotional aspect is something you aren’t ever quite prepared for. As well-managed as it may be, the journey towards handing over your company is a huge decision, and a real milestone in your life. Those feelings have only reaffirmed that the EOT model is right for C21. I really couldn’t envisage leaving the business in the hands of anyone else but the current team.

How did Brabners support you throughout the process?

I have a long-standing relationship with Brabners and – regardless of who I’m speaking to within the firm – have always felt I was working with someone who cared for, and would make a difference to, the future of my business. Not every legal team out there understands the commercial, service-led sector that C21 operates in – nor the relationships we have with our clients and colleagues.

I’ve felt incredibly supported throughout and they’ve made sure I completely understand everything in relation to what is a relatively new exit route for business owners. Next to having my son and getting married, this feels like one of the biggest moments of my life but, with their help, I’ve felt confident to take this step and make sure that the future of the business is secure.  

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of undertaking an EOT deal?

When I began exploring employee ownership, I had conversations with people in my sector, as well as other industries, to see what their experiences had been. Others who have been through it can give you an understanding of the process itself, as well as provide insight on the period that follows.

I’d also say, make sure you find the legal team that understands where your business is coming from, and that is also focused on making sure the transaction not only works for you but your current and future employees. Brabners understood that we couldn’t hold the agency back in anyway – we needed to give the business wings to fly higher in the future. Find a team who help you to stay true to your values and ambitions. 

Related insights