A HISTORIC Glasgow-based architecture firm which once counted Charles Rennie Mackintosh as a partner has moved into employee ownership.

Keppie Design, which was founded in 1854 by John Honeyman, has been a prominent name in Scottish architecture throughout its history.

Mackintosh, Scotland's most celebrated architect, was working for John Honeyman and Keppie, as the practice was then known, when he designed Glasgow School of Art, perhaps his most famous commission. Work on the Art School was completed in 1909.

Now Keppie has become the latest in a growing number of Scottish firms to make move into employee ownership, with the entire shareholding of the company transferring into an employee ownership trust (EOT). The deal means that more than 100 staff have become part owners of the business.

Peter Moran, Fraser Low, Richard MacDonald and David Ross, who acquired the business in a management buyout in 2018, are understood to have been exploring the future of the practice for some time.

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A statement said the shareholders recognised the “huge personal investment” the staff have made which has “driven the special culture and hard-earned reputation for the firm”. It added that their priority has been to ensure that “these values are protected beyond their stewardship”.

Mr Moran, the managing director, said: “The outstanding loyalty and contribution of Keppie employees over the years has earned our practice the reputation it has today. We believe that the best people to own the future of Keppie are the people who know it best – our present and future employees.”

He added: “The EOT will provide a platform for our business to grow, with a commitment to continual professional and personal improvement and innovation to ensure Keppie maintains its position as a market leader.”

Keppie’s four shareholders will remain with the business to allow for a period of stability following the transfer to the EOT.

Finance director Pamela Ross, who has been appointed the employee representative on the board of trustees, said: “On behalf of the whole team at Keppie we are delighted and energised by the move to employee ownership which secures the business for current and future generations of talented people.

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“This exciting new era for the company allows us to further build on our current market-leading position, working on innovative, high-quality projects in an environment which balances creativity, collaboration, and pragmatism, whilst inspiring our staff to reach their full potential.”

Graham Cunning, head of corporate finance in Scotland with accountancy firm Azets, which has been managing the transaction, said: “Azets are delighted to have advised the shareholders of Keppie on their sale to an EOT. Keppie have a strong reputation and rich heritage in Scottish architecture and the EOT will ensure that the Keppie brand will continue. We wish the staff every success and look forward to watching the evolution of Keppie as it transitions to an employee-owned business.”

There are now 182 employee-owned firms in Scotland and, as the model becomes increasingly favoured among owners looking to safeguard the future of their businesses, that number is expected to rise to 200 soon.

Among the success stories are Livingston James, the Glasgow-based recruitment firm, which last month announced several internal promotions and new hires as it looked to capitalise on a successful first year under employee ownership.

Founder Jamie Livingston said the already-strong culture of the organisation has “reached another level” following the switch to employee ownership.

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates, who advised on the Keppie deal along with David Deane of Bannatyne Kirkwood France & Co, said she was “delighted to see such a prestigious firm decide to secure their legacy and future with the move to employee ownership”.

She added: “This is looking like a great year for employee ownership and I think we may well get over the 200 mark by Q2 this year.”