While selling a company for a handsome profit might be good news for its owners, it can be a profoundly unsettling event for employees. There is concern that jobs may be lost or descriptions changed. Those who’ve been part of a business for a long time fear their face may no longer fit.
However, it doesn’t always pan out like this. Sometimes the arrival of a new owner can be positive. The acquisition of Irish gift card company One4All by US-based branded payments operator Blackhawk Network has worked to the local team’s advantage. Its former country manager Jock Jordan has been elevated to regional vice-president while a number of senior managers have been promoted to European roles and job numbers in Ireland have risen.
Jordan is a corporate veteran who was country manager for Sony recording media and then for Walt Disney before joining Aer Lingus cargo in 1999. He left his job as head of sales and marketing for the division to join One4All founder Michael Dawson shortly after he started the company in 2002. Jordan subsequently mortgaged his house to buy into the fledgling business.
Over the last 20 years, One4All has grown into a substantial organisation employing more than 70 people. Its vouchers are accepted by more than 8,500 outlets and, in 2019, the value of these vouchers to the Irish retail sector was €196 million. This jumped to €250 million last year.
Jordan very much sees the arrival of Blackhawk as both a necessity and a golden opportunity for the company and its employees.
“Our type of business is consolidating worldwide and we needed the investment to survive and prosper,” he says. “It would have become increasingly difficult to have remained independent.
“But we also brought something to the deal. We’ve a long track record of consistent innovation, having taken the business from paper vouchers to plastic cards and, most recently, to a digital version that people can put into their payments wallet. In short, we’re very good at what we do and now have the opportunity to be a centre of excellence within the group. Our expertise has already been recognised through the promotion of our employees.
“Blackhawk wants to expand in Europe. In the short term they are looking at launching in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany and ultimately the rest of the world,” he adds. “We are now part of EMEA and have the chance to play a part in making an original Irish idea a global brand; that’s exciting.”
Jordan had no hesitation staying on after the sale. “I think it’s good to have a local person running a local market and I also felt a responsibility to our employees,” he says. “I have a great team and I have always believed that part of my job as a manager is to recognise, support and reward them and that was my approach long before Covid came along. Covid just made it even more important.”
Jordan is probably more tuned into employee health and wellbeing than most managers as, on top of his work commitments, he volunteers with the first responders’ emergency network which is part of the National Ambulance Service and also with the international humanitarian organisation, St John Ambulance.
“I don’t want to be beating our own drum but I think we’ve done a good job of looking after our people over the past 15 months,” he says. “ We’ve tried to ensure that employees are taking time for themselves and have introduced initiative such as ‘no Zoom’ Fridays and have encouraged people to be much more focused in meetings.
“So, instead of a meeting running for an hour as it did in the past, it will now run for 40 minutes. We also avoid back-to-back meetings so people have breathing space to make a cup of tea or take a few minutes out.
“We’re constantly checking in to see how people are doing and run regular employee surveys and town halls where I outline the strategy for the business and employees are free to ask me anything, anonymously if they wish. I quite like to be challenged. It keeps me alert.”
With a return to the office on the cards from September, One4All (which is based in Swords) is in the process of refurbishing its premises to be Covid compliant.
The company is opting for a hybrid model that will allows employees to combine remote and office working but they will be coming back to a changed environment. The rows of personal desks are going and being replaced by a space booking system and the work area looks more like a hub than a traditional office.
“We can accommodate between 50 and 60 per cent of our employee population safely in the new layout while observing the necessary protocols,” Jordan says. “The main reason for having the hub is to facilitate innovation and creativity because it sparks more ideas when people are together.
“Secondly, it is important for maintaining organisational culture, especially among new staff members who have been onboarded remotely during the pandemic. People pick up so much by just being around others and it’s very difficult to drive company culture from a distance.”