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Shifting powers at Blackwell

Family-owned bookseller Blackwell plans to follow in the footsteps of department store John Lewis in transferring the ownership of the company to its staff.

Third-generation group chairman Toby Blackwell, grandson of founder Benjamin Blackwell, said he was setting up an employee partnership, giving away his shares and following the John Lewis Partnership model. "I have been studying this in detail and practice," he told Bookseller magazine on 8 September.

"I believe that every single one of our people is important, and can, if respected and encouraged, contribute ideas to make Blackwell's more efficient and innovative," he said.
Blackwell shares are currently split into two classes, A and B. Class A represents the voting rights while class B are the common stock shares. The change relates to the class B shares, which Blackwell is giving to the employee partnership. Toby Blackwell and two long-standing associates will retain control of the A shares.
The 130-year-old bookseller announced earlier this week it is shutting down its Oxford head office, putting 25 jobs at risk of redundancy. The company proposed moving more power to its individual stores, making its 949 employees eligible for its shares.

Some essential administration staff will remain in a unit in the Oxford area and Gareth Hardy will stay in his position as head of buying.

According to Blackwell, the move should be completed by December and comes after several years of losses. For the year ending in June 2009 the business lost £9.4 million on a turnover of £74.2 million. Blackwell hopes that the company will return to profit in its next financial year.

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