Anton Group has become an Employee Ownership Trust, a move which paves the way for founder John Knight to retire and which lays the foundation for the next chapter in the development of the Basildon business.
The move comes a little less than two years after Malcolm Lane-Ley, previously managing director of Howard Smith Paper Group and managing director of Paperlinx’s commercial sales arm, joined the company. It comes after lengthy consideration about how best to secure the future of the company.
This allows Knight to step back from the business while keeping it intact. There would have been too many risks associated with a trade sale. “If he went to market to sell the business, who would buy it and then what might they do with it?” says Lane-Ley. “There would be pressure to get rid of the people, maybe move the factory, and there would be the chance that the business would be broken up. So having investigated all the options, he thought why not create an Employee Ownership Trust?”
The best known of these is the John Lewis Partnership and within the industry, papermaker Tullis Russell. The form of business is encouraged by government and covers small cooperatives to huge enterprises. It is not an easy transition, but does ensure the stability of the business. “The benefit for Anton is that it would all the business to continue for several more generations,” he adds. “It enables a lot of things that have been done to stay in place and the business is passed to the people that have built it up over 40 years.”
Knight will remain closely allied to to the business and will be paid for his shares over a seven year period. In the meantime, qualifying employees will elect two trustees to a board which will oversee the company’s management board that oversees day to day running of the operation. Lane-Ley is its executive chairman and is supported by Gary Knight as manufacturing director, Barry Knight as production director, Paul Burnham, customer services director, Simon Leeder, new business director and Chris Stockly as finance director.
The company will continue to develop the variable data capabilities it has expanded through adding Kodak Prosper heads to Heidelberg sheetfed presses and will be looking to forge partnerships with marketing and data companies says Lane-Ley. First however, it is about continuity of a business that has become one of the largest sheetfed printers in the UK. He says: “It means stability for suppliers and customers. It means that staff have a direct relationship between the business and what they do and it means that John will be around when needed. There are some strong win-wins from this.”
A full interview with Malcolm Lane-Ley and profile of Anton Group appears in the October issue of Print Business.