Aardman transfers majority of company to employee ownership

The Oscar-winning animation studio Aardman has transferred the majority of the company into employee ownership.

With over 40 years of producing award-winning content, Aardman co-founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton have announced that they are preparing the company for continued success over the next few decades, effectively selling it to the workforce.

The sale is aimed at ensuring that Aardman remains independent, thus ‘securing the creative legacy and culture of the company for many decades to come.’

The majority of Aardman’s shares will be transferred into a trust, holding them on behalf of the company’s workforce. 

The senior management team will remain in their existing roles and will form the Executive Board, creating a seamless transition for the company and ensuring creative, cultural and business continuity.

David Sproxton will continue as managing director and will look to appoint a new MD within the next 12 months to replace him at which time he’ll segue into a consultancy role. 

The MD will remain accountable to the Trust.

Peter Lord will remain in his role as Creative Director at the company with a focus on the company’s feature film output. This includes the upcoming features Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, co-directed by Richard Phelan and Will Becher due for release in autumn 2019 and Chicken Run 2, currently in development with Sam Fell set to direct.

“We’re not quitting yet”, said Lord & Sproxton, “but we are preparing for our future. This approach, the creation of an employee trust, is the best solution we have found for keeping Aardman doing what it does best, keeping the teams in place and providing continuity for our highly creative culture. And of course, those that create value in the company will continue to benefit directly from the value they create”.

“The statistics show that employee owned companies are significantly more successful than conventionally owned companies. So we are very excited by the prospect of seeing Aardman roll far into the future under this arrangement and can rest easy that those four decades which have slipped by have paved the way for many more years of great creativity”, they continued.

Four-time Oscar winning director Nick Park will continue to have an active role in the studio’s feature film and shorts productions. Park has been a fundamental creative voice at the studio since joining in 1985 and is known for his legendary Wallace & Gromit, winning three of his four Oscars for the characters in the shorts The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and Best Animated Feature Film for The Curse of The Were-Rabbit. 

He co-directed the global box office smash hit Chicken Run and made his sole director debut with Early Man, a prehistoric comedy adventure released earlier this year. He will form part of the new Executive Board of Directors, who will report to the Board of Trustees.

In addition to Park, other members on the Executive Board of Directors include Carla Shelley (Executive Director, Feature Production), Heather Wright (Executive Director, Partner Content), Kerry Lock (Finance Director), Paula Newport (Director, People & Culture) Sarah Cox (Executive Creative Director -Intellectual Property Development) and Sean Clarke (Executive Director, Rights & Brand Management).

The role of the Board of Trustees is to ensure the Executive Board is staying true to the core values of the organisation and acting in the interest of its workforce.

“Over the last 42 years, Peter and David have shaped Aardman into creative force, whose dynamic creative culture allows it to develop, produce and distribute unique and comedic films and series for audiences all over the world," said Heather Wright. 

"EO is a perfect way of future-proofing that independent spirit and thinking, and allow us to protect the legacy whilst continuing to nurture new talent and ideas and diversify our storytelling into new areas of theme parks, console games and interactive content. 

"I know I can talk on behalf of the whole board of directors in thanking the founders for the opportunity to be asked to be part of the board whom will take the company forward in the next exciting stage of its evolution."

“We congratulate Aardman on its transition to employee ownership which is a great example of where the EOT model can be used to secure the businesses ethos, creative values and independence for the longer term while helping those who supported its creative success to share in the value they create. This has been an exciting journey for us to support David, Peter and the team knowing that Aardman’s iconic productions will continue to bring joy to fans new and old for many more years to come”, said Deb Oxley, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association.

Aardman was founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton 1972 and since its inception has been committed to engaging audiences with compelling stories and characters through animation.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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