Rethinking capitalism: A round-table discussion on egalitarian/stakeholder capitalism

Held on Tuesday, November 21, 2017


  • Phillip Ullmann (Cordant Group)

  • Gavin Oldham (Share plc)

  • Duncan Weldon (Resolution Group)



Wow – there’s hubris, and there’s hubris. But I am not going to let that stop me. A couple of months ago, I read a fascinating column in CityAM by Cordant’s Phillip Ullmann on his scheme to convert the UK’s second largest privately-owned recruiter into the country’s biggest social enterprise. I then had a long talk with The Share Centre’s chairman, Gavin Oldham, about his proposal for a more egalitarian form of capitalism.

Since anyone with half a brain can see that something is wrong with the current system (which seems to be generating sub-optimal growth for the middle of the income distribution in particular, while permitting Piketty’s “1%” to take an ever-increasing share of the pie), I am sympathetic – so I put them together, and this round table is the result:

  • Phillip Ullmann runs Cordant Group, which is wholly owned by the Ullmann family. It specialises in recruitment, particularly for the public sector – with a special niche in education and the NHS. It has an annual turnover of around £1bn, and even though it posted a small loss in 2016, it is clearly a successful and stable business. Earlier this year, however, Phillip stunned the market by announcing that he would convert Cordant into a social enterprise, cap dividend payments to family shareholders at £3m (so no real sacrifice there?), impose a ceiling on executive pay at 20 times the lowest-paid staff member, and pledge profits beyond the dividend payment to social projects. Given that the Daily Mirror was excoriating Cordant as “gangmaster in chief” as recently as 2014, this is a stunning reversal – and Phillip is well worth listening to.
  • Gavin Oldham is also worth a detour – though, in his case, his mission to smooth the rough edges of capitalism is motivated by his Christian faith as well as by a belief that things cannot go on as they are. Many of you will know him: starting out at Wedd Durlacher, he founded Barclayshare, and then set up his own brokerage, The Share Centre. He also runs The Share Foundation, which operates the Department for Education’s asset-building accounts for young people in care, and Share Radio (designed to inform and educate a wider audience about share ownership) – which, in turn, was influenced by Gavin’s role as a trustee of pfeg.

Phillip and Gavin are businessmen/entrepreneurs who firmly believe that there is a Better Way. My guess (I don’t know) is that both are natural conservatives, who believe that the most successful have an obligation to put back into society. I rather doubt that Duncan Weldon would describe himself as a conservative – natural or otherwise.

Duncan is currently head of research at the Resolution Group, the privately-owned investment firm set up by Clive Cowdery, which he joined in 2015 from the BBC, where he was economics correspondent. Before that, he was senior economist at the TUC and special adviser to the deputy leader of the Labour Party. He has a long review of Edward Wolff’s latest book on income inequality in the US, in the current issue of Prospect – which makes it very clear that (from a different ideological point of view) he shares the same concerns as Phillip and Gavin.

I don’t suppose that we’ll change the world. But I am sure that our three speakers will produce a very lively discussion on the issues of inequality, egalitarianism and the future of stakeholder capitalism. If you (or a colleague) would like to join us, please let us know by emailing or by calling the Centre on 0207 621 1056. As usual, wine and sandwiches will be provided.

Sincerely yours,

Andrew Hilton