Richer and richer

POSTED: May 20, 2019

When I lived in London twenty years ago I would sometimes visit Richer Sounds in a small street just off Tottenham Court Road. It had the kind of hifi equipment I could not afford, and some that I could.

Once I bought a state-of-the-art pair of big wooden headphones that made me look as though I intended to play the part of a philosopical alien on Doctor Who. They also gave the best sound I have ever heard in any headphones or earbuds.

I thought about this when I read a piece in The Guardian about Julian Richer, who founded the shop, at the age of nineteen, and subsequently turned it into a small but profitable specialist chain.

The founder of Richer Sounds is handing control of the hi-fi and TV retail chain to staff, in a move that will also give employees large cash bonuses.

Julian Richer will announce to staff on Tuesday that he has transferred 60% of his shares into a John Lewis-style trust. Richer, who recently turned 60, said the “time was right” to pass the baton to the chain’s 531 employees.

“My father dropped down dead at 60 so I am very keen for this to happen in my lifetime,” explained Richer. “I felt the time was right, rather than leaving it until I’m not around, to ensure the transition goes smoothly and I can be part of it. I still really, really care but it is time for the next generation.”

The company will pay Richer an initial £9.2m for the stake but the businessman is giving £3.5m of that back to staff, who will receive £1,000 for every year they have worked for the retailer.

Apparently this has become a small but encouraging trend.

The Guardian says that “more than 350 businesses have now adopted the model, with at least 50 more preparing to follow suit. Recent converts include Riverford, the organic vegetable box company and Aardman, the Bristol-based animation studio behind Wallace & Gromit”.

Interesting. Social capitalism arises from the dead just as neo-liberalism begins to collapse under the weight of its anti-humanism.

In heaven, William Lever and Joseph Rowntree might just have paused from washing and nibbling, and begun to smile again.