Torchbox hands over 100% of business to employees to ensure independence

Melanie May | 28 June 2019 | News

Digital agency Torchbox has announced the transference of the business into a Employee Ownership Trust.
The agency founders have made the move, which sees it hand over 100% of the business to its employees, to ensure its future independence.
Torchbox provides digital product development and marketing services to clients across non-profit, healthcare and higher education sectors, and created Wagtail, the open source CMS used by the NHS, NASA and Google.
Its founders Olly Willans and Tom Dyson first revealed plans to staff in March and expect the sale process to complete on 28 June 2019.
Torchbox’s employees, who will receive a tax-free bonus of up to £3,600 every year as part of the deal, have elected a Trust of Directors from the existing workforce. This Trust will work alongside Torchbox’s Directors to oversee strategy and growth, with an emphasis on ensuring that the business’s sense of purpose and values remains paramount.
Willans and Dyson will be part of the Trust for five years, until their majority stake is repaid by the business. Staff will eventually be able to decide how to direct agency profits and will continue to input into the running of the business via the Trust, in a model similar to that of the John Lewis Partnership.
Olly Willans explained:

“When we were considering the future of Torchbox, we thought about the importance of retaining our independent spirit, continuing our fast growth and empowering our brilliant team to take an active part in our business.
“We decided that by far the best people to own Torchbox are the people who have made it the success it is today, and the people who will continue to make it a success tomorrow. If we were going to choose employee ownership, then we wanted to commit to it entirely without maintaining any kind of minority shareholding.”

Tom Dyson added:


“We plan to spend the next five years focused on maintaining the business’s growth and success, continuing with our US expansion plans and ensuring we hit our targets. We’ve been lucky enough to work with an amazing array of clients who all have a strong purpose – from our first big client the MS Society to huge non-profit organisations like the NHS and NASA. However, the thing I’m most proud of is the team we’ve built at Torchbox – many of them have been with us for more than a decade and two employees have worked here since year one. To me, that says we’ve built something really special, which is even more reason for moving to employee ownership as a thank you for all that hard work and commitment”

Deb Oxley OBE, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association, said:

“We congratulate Torchbox on its transition to employee ownership. By widening ownership of the business to its employees Torchbox is securing the future of the business, including its ethos, values and employees, while rooting itself locally for the longer term to the benefit of the community which it serves.”

The four Trustee Directors were elected by staff after interested employees submitted a 100-word bid, explaining why they thought they would be strong candidates. Bekah Evans, delivery manager at Torchbox is a newly elected Trustee Director.
She commented:

“Creating the Employee Ownership Trust will ensure the spirit and soul of the company will continue after Tom and Olly move on. It will help us maintain our independence and continue to grow in a way that benefits clients and staff alike. For me, this also represents a big opportunity to learn new skills while helping to shape the future of our business.”

Main image: founders Olly Willans and Tom Dyson