Synergy Vision founder and CEO, Ffyona Dawber, explains how she took the decision to move Synergy Vision to employee ownership and how this bold move was kept on track despite the challenges of the past year…
“In 2019, after 12 years of running Synergy Vision (which have flown by in the blink of an eye), I had the realization that in the next 12 years I would be considering retirement, and I started to think about the succession plan of the company.
“Our values have always been people-focused – we focus on our team, our clients, and ultimately the patients, whose lives we hope to change for the better.
“This consistent approach for more than a decade has allowed us to grow the business to a turnover of £8m.
“Over the years, and increasingly in the last five years, I have been approached by bigger companies, and agents of bigger companies, who wanted to open discussions on buying Synergy Vision.
“I always knew this would not be for us, as it would be very unlikely that these companies would share our values – which I feel strongly about protecting – but I wasn't sure what the alternatives were.
“However, in the summer of 2019, I attended a meeting about encouraging wealth in the community and heard someone talk about employee ownership.
“Beyond a vague awareness that this is how John Lewis & Partners operated, I had no knowledge of this concept.
“I went home and did some research on what employee ownership meant and thought this could be for us. I attended the Employee Ownership Association conference in November 2019 and met a lot of like-minded people, who had strong people-focused values, from a variety of different industries.
“Over the next few months, I did more research reviewing the pros and cons, and spoke to employee-owned companies. I planned to discuss it with the board at the beginning of 2020.”
When the pandemic struck
“Like most businesses at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know how it would affect us and we went immediately into disaster recovery mode with twice weekly board huddles, increased leadership team meetings and intensive planning with clients.
“Our number one priority was to do everything to protect our existing team and clients, ensuring regular communication and feedback loops, setting everyone up to work from home, and increasing the support of our team, clients and suppliers.
“Because of this, the move to employee ownership had to take somewhat of a back seat, as we shifted our priorities to dealing with the issues thrown at us by the pandemic.
“By the autumn, it felt like we had found our feet again; we knew what the clients needed and how best to deliver it for them. The team felt secure in their roles and we all understood this new way of working.”
What did COVID-19 teach me?
“At work (and at home), living through a pandemic has shown me how important a sense of community is.
“We did everything to keep our team protected and our team did everything to protect the business.
“As for all businesses, this was an extremely challenging and often stressful time, but it showed us that people really are the only important thing in all of this.”
Getting employee ownership back on track…
“Once we started to stabilize the business by the end of the summer, the board discussed employee ownership again and we agreed this was the best future-proofing plan for Synergy Vision, which allowed us to continue to put our people and our values first.
“And so, with a little bit more work behind the scenes, we became an employee-owned company in March 2021.
“This is a natural succession plan for us as Synergy Vision, ensuring the values, future growth and ultimate responsibility for the company stay with the people who know the business and help to build it.”