Capital-based i4 Product Design seals deal to switch to employee ownership

An Edinburgh-based product design consultancy has become Scotland's latest employee-owned business.

The firm was founded in 2003 and clients have included Flymo, Bosch and Optos. Picture: Contributed
The firm was founded in 2003 and clients have included Flymo, Bosch and Optos. Picture: Contributed

The firm, i4 Product Design, was established in 2003 by its four founding directors – Brian Combe, Ewan Maxwell, Gordon Miller and Jim Ward – and has gone on to design home and garden products for brands such as Flymo and Bosch as well as medical diagnostics and prosthetics products for the likes of Nikon-owned Optos and Touch Bionics.

Three of the four founders – Combe, Maxwell and Miller – are still with the business and form the current board of directors.

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Following the transition to an employee-owned business, 14 members of staff have become majority owners.

Combe, i4’s managing director, said: “The main objective of establishing an employee ownership structure was to provide a stable platform for growth by allowing our employees to feel more engaged, informed and integrated into the company.

“Many exit options had been considered over the years, even employee ownership which at the time we wrongly assumed would be too complicated for us. However it soon became clear that employee ownership was an ideal fit for the aspirations of the directors, for leaving a legacy of a sustainable and profitable company.

“Since the company’s inception we have always strived to do the right thing by our employees, and so once we understood the principles of employee ownership, we knew it was the perfect vehicle for us to begin the process of engaging our team for the next chapter of our company’s development.”

An employee ownership trust has been formed and currently holds 75 per cent of the shares on behalf of the employees – the co-founders have an equal share of the remaining 25 per cent but it is envisaged that the trust will eventually hold 100 per cent.

The transition to employee ownership was supported by Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), with legal advice from Anderson Strathern and financial advice from Business Equilibrium.

Sarah Deas, director at CDS, said: “It is fantastic news that i4 Product Design has joined the long and fast-growing list of Scottish-based employee-owned businesses. It is a very successful company and the owners wanted to ensure that continued before exiting the business sometime in the future, as well as engaging the employees and giving them a meaningful stake in the business.”