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Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business

Policy makers, academics, employees and citizens more generally are showing increasing interest in the participatory approach to stakeholder involvement created by co-owned and mutual enterprise. Sea changes in the UK and global economies have reinforced the importance of the mutual and co-owned business sectors, with their high standards of corporate ethics, community responsibility and long-term sustainable strategies.

The Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business (MCOB) is a response to this new environment. Led by the centre’s Director, Jonathan Michie, it aims to be a centre of new thinking, new ideas, new evidence and new education on these increasingly significant sectors of the UK economy. The principal activities of the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business will thus be research and professional development via tailored short courses and educational programmes focused on the business needs of the mutual and co-owned sectors. With a commitment to applied knowledge and dissemination, the Centre will also run conferences, seminars and guest lectures and aims to promote networking and partnering within and beyond Oxford.

  • Lead research into the performance of the mutual and co-owned sectors.
  • Offer professional development programmes closely matched to the needs of relevant businesses and the development of their current and future leaders.
  • Encourage debate and advance new thinking about mutuality and co-ownership.
  • Create a national and international network of academics, practitioners and policy makers.

The ownership of businesses is a crucial element in determining how they are governed, whose interests they prioritise and how they are held to account.  While conventional, shareholder-owned businesses are primarily accountable to external investors, for whom they are expected to maximise financial returns, mutual and co-owned businesses are organised along different principles, which factor in a broader array of interests and values.

Mutuals (such as building societies in the financial sector or Foundation Trust Hospitals in the public sector) are run on behalf of their members, who use and depend on them; they do not sell shares.  Co-owned businesses are either organised as mutuals, accountable to their employees (such as the John Lewis Partnership in the UK) or employees hold a controlling share.

This is an under-appreciated and under-researched part of the economy.  The Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business exists to develop and compile research on these alternative corporate forms, and to act as an academic hub for economists, sociologists, political scientists, lawyers and business and management scholars, with an interest in broadening debates about ownership and corporate governance.

The assumption that businesses ought necessarily be governed for the maximisation of financial returns to external shareholders has come under increasing strain in recent years, and there is growing public and policy interest in challenging the orthodox model of the corporation.  Via research, events, advocacy and the development of a new educational curriculum in mutual business, the Centre will seek to become a leading source of expertise on ownership and corporate governance, and to develop academic and public understanding of mutual and employee-owned models.

The Centre is supported by the member organisations for co-owned and mutual businesses in the UK – Mutuo and the Employee Ownership Association. The Centre’s first corporate sponsor is Simplyhealth.

Professor Jonathan Michie, Director
Dr Ana Nacvalovaite, Research Fellow
Dr Ruth Yeoman, Research Fellow
Professor Joseph Blasi, Visiting Fellow
Professor Chris Rowley, Visiting Fellow
Professor Kadriye Bakirci, Research Fellow
Mr Graeme Nuttall, Research Associate and Visiting Fellow
Dr John Hoffmire, Research Associate
Mr Mazi Zarrehparvar, Research Associate
Ms. Zulema Jimenez Perez, Administrator

The Centre’s activities

Find out more about the Centre’s past and present projects and research below, and access a list of insightful publications and papers written by the centre’s members.

Visit our Commission on Sustainability Data (CSD) pages for more information.

This research is being conducted by Professor Jonathan Michie and Dr Ana Nacvalovaite. Its purpose is to assess how and to what extent Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) investment in co-operative, mutual and co-owned business might enhance social and environmental sustainability, thereby contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Global expansion of SWF investments is providing an opportunity to promote sustainable finance. Powerful examples of business models that have long served communities are co-operative, mutual and co-owned enterprises.

The importance of the SDGs and the significance of COP26 pledges for future investments, will have a far-reaching impact on the business world. We are therefore identifying how collaboration between SWFs and the co-operative, mutual and co-owned sector may be mutually beneficial. A particular aspect of our study highlights the benefits of generational investment in meeting the need for communities to thrive after SWFs have withdrawn their investments – business as well as social sustainability.

Our research also considers how such SWF investments may contribute to closing the gap between the developed and the developing world, stabilising financial systems during crises, contributing to ‘just transitions’, promoting gender and racial diversity, building the ‘well-being economy’, and promoting financing education.

We welcome enquiries about the project.

The financial mutuals sector (building societies and mutual insurers) makes a vital contribution to the UK financial services industry. Mutuals are a core feature of a diverse financial services market, ensuring that the broader financial services industry supports an economically productive and socially sustainable economy which makes lives better by providing the consumer with trusted financial products and services.

It is in this context that The Building Societies Association (BSA) and the Association of Financial Mutuals (AFM) funded the Centre for Mutual and Employee-owned Business at Kellogg College, University of Oxford to undertake independent research to investigate the strategic application of the values and principles of mutuality, and the contribution these can make to fostering the sector’s growth.

The research was conducted by Dr Ruth Yeoman, Research Fellow at the Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business and Dr Daniel Tischer, Lecturer in Political Economy and Organisation Studies at the University of Manchester. The project examined potential strategic drivers, such as leadership, culture and inter-organisational collaboration. The study also examined the contribution that mutuality can make to create a compelling vision for the broader financial services sector, based upon improving people’s lives.

Find out more

The Ownership Commission was established in 2010, to examine the state of corporate ownership in the UK.  Chaired by economist, Will Hutton, and consisting of 11 commissioners drawn from business, politics and academia (including Jonathan Michie), it produced its final report [pdf] in March 2012, detailing the current make-up of ownership in Britain, and how it affects the performance and fairness of the British economy.  The report lays out a series of recommendations on how to increase the plurality of ownership forms, the stewardship of shareholders and the engagement of owners with the organisations which belong to them.

The Centre is currently working on the development of an ‘index of diversity’ for the financial services sector, so that progress towards the Coalition Agreement’s pledges to promote greater corporate diversity, including through the promotion of mutuals, can be tracked over time.  It also plans to produce new case studies of co-operative and mutual enterprises, leading to the publication of standardised ‘cases’, which will also be used in future teaching.

Employee ownership as a supercharged ‘all-party’ solution to bolster wealth Graeme Nuttall OBE (Bright Blue essay collection ‘A Wealth of Opportunities’, chapter 15)
Ethics, Meaningfulness, and Mutuality Ruth Yeoman (Routledge Studies in Business Ethics)
Making Meaningful Cities Ruth Yeoman (Oxford Impact Case Studies)
Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work Ruth Yeoman, Katie Bailey, Adrian Madden and Marc Thompson (Oxford University Press)
A Complex Systems Model for Transformative Supply Chains in Emerging Markets Ruth Yeoman and Milena Mueller Santos (International Journal of Emerging Markets)
Mutual and Meaningful Ruth Yeoman. (Minds at Work. Fabian Society)
A Review of the Empirical Literature on Meaningful Work: Progress and Research Agenda Katie Bailey, Ruth Yeoman, Adrian Madden, Gary Kerridge and Marc Thompson. (Human Resource Development Review. Winner of the 2019 Elwood F. Holton Research Excellence Award)
From Traditional to Innovative Multi-Stakeholder Mutuals: The Case of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Ruth Yeoman (In: Blasi, Borzaga & Michie (eds.) the Oxford Handbook of Cooperative and Mutual Business. Oxford: Oxford University Press)
New Models of Ownership and Governance Cliff Mills and Ruth Yeoman (In: Webster, Shaw & Vorberg-Rugh (eds.) Cooperative Futures. Manchester University Press)
Employee Share Ownership, Cadence Innova EMI – Craig Yugawa, John Hoffmire, Ewan Hall
Employee-owned companies perform better, but are resisted by banks, lawyers and governments – Jonathan Michie ( 2019)
Business Ethics in East Asia: Examples in Historical Context – Chris Rowley & Ingyu Oh eds (Routledge, 2017)
Mutual, Cooperative and Employee-Owned Businesses in the Asia Pacific: Diversity, Resilience and Sustainable Growth – Chris Rowley & Jonathan Michie eds (Routledge, 2015)
Ethical and Social Marketing in Asia – Bang Nguyen & Chris Rowley (Chandos Publishing, 2015)
Reframing Building Societies and Mutual Insurers: Collaboration as a source of competitive advantage – Ruth Yeoman, Kellogg College, University of Oxford and Daniel Tischer, Alliance Manchester Business School (University of Oxford, 2016)
Becoming a Public Service Mutual: Understanding Transition and Change – Will Davies and Ruth Yeoman (Cooperative Group & Mutuo, 2013)
Blueprint for a Cooperative Decade – Will Davies & Cliff Mills (International Cooperative Alliance, 2012)
Measuring Mutuality: Indicators for Financial Mutuals – Jonathan Michie & Will Davies (Association of Financial Mutuals, 2012)
Plurality, Stewardship & Engagement: The Report of the Ownership Commission (2012)
Employee Ownership: Defusing the business succession time bomb in Wales – William Davies & Jonathan Michie (Wales Co-operative Centre, 2012)
All of Our Business: Why Britain needs more private sector employee ownership – William Davies (Employee Ownership Association, 2012)
Mutuals Yearbook 2013
Mutuals Yearbook 2012
Promoting Corporate Diversity in the Financial Services Sector– Jonathan Michie (2010)
A Mutual Health Service – Report of a Parliamentary Seminar (2009)
Reinventing The Firm– William Davies (Demos, 2009)
Converting financial institutions into mutual organisations – Jonathan Michie and David Llewellyn (2009)

Contact the Centre

All enquiries should be directed to Dr Ana Nacvalovaite at