Succession planning is vital to any maturing business – but it doesn’t have to involve “cashing out to the highest bidder”.

Lancashire-based public relations agency Viva is in the process of becoming an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) – a move which founder and MD Tony Garner believes will sustain the 21-year-old company’s legacy and culture for years to come.

The existing leadership team – which oversaw turnover growth of 26% last year to a new record – will remain in place and maintain day-to-day operational oversight under what it terms the ‘John Lewis model’.

Under the plan, the majority share of the Rawtenstall company’s equity transfers into the legal trust on behalf of employees. The firm of 13 employees serves high-profile clients like BAE Systems, Eurofighter, NHS trusts and local authorities. 

Technology is one of Viva’s four key sectors, with experience of working with clients including Manchester HealthTech firm Evergreen Life, Portland-based Extensis and Polyloop, a Belfast- and London-based public sector impact SaaS platform.


“Looking to the future, I had to assess what was going to be right for me and for Viva and our employees. We’ve built something special over the last 22 years and it felt right that that should carry on for many more years to come,” Garner tells TechBlast.

“Any business owner has the option to cash in to the highest bidder when the time is right for them to leave. But I came to the decision that I wanted to create a legacy – both for the people who work for Viva, and will work for us in the future, for our clients and for Rawtenstall, the place we call home.”

Garner launched the agency from his back bedroom following a career in sports journalism. 

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He says an EOT is a great model for agencies such as Viva because it puts people at the heart of succession planning – with the team sharing in successes if the business hits its targets. 

Research shows that where people feel invested in a business, and part of something much bigger, they deliver better outcomes – a win-win situation for everyone. 

“We announced the plan for Viva to become an EOT to employees in January 2023 and, as a leadership team, we’ve been working hard in the background to ensure the business was ready for the transition,” the MD adds.

“It’s been a learning curve, but an exciting one, and we’ve been lucky that everyone within the business has been fully supportive and on board with the transformation. I think communication – being open and honest — is crucial.

“I was proud to announce that Viva was now an EOT, looking ahead to a solid future and back on what we’ve achieved up to now — not least sustaining a business that helps a dozen or so people pay their mortgage each month. 

“I’m not planning on going anywhere for now. I’m building our leadership team and focused on continuing to grow the agency. But it’s a great feeling knowing that Viva will live on.”

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