When you decide to establish a business, by far the most common way to go about it is to form a sole proprietorship or, if there’s more than one of you, a private corporation. We, meaning Aaron, Aileen, and I, decided on a road less traveled – a co-operative.
Co-operatives are fairly well known around the world. In fact, according to the 2014 Global Census on Co-operatives, “1 in every 6 people on average in the world has membership or is a client of a co-operative.” In Canada it’s closer to 40%.
But when we think of co-ops, what comes to mind first are consumer-based establishments, such as Mountain Equipment Coop or agricultural co-ops like the United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative. Probably the most well known co-operative institutions are credit unions. The two largest credit unions in Canada are Desjardins, based in Québec and Vancity in BC.
Co-operatives are much more than that, however. Any type of business can be formed as a co-operative and tailored to meet the needs and aspirations of its members. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter co-operative. In a weekend boot camp the three of us attended last spring to help us set up our business, we often heard “If you’ve seen one co-operative, you’ve seen one co-operative.”
So why did we choose a co-operative instead of a more mainstream model? Here are a few thoughts:
Members over profits: corporations focus on profits for the shareholders, while co-ops focus on the needs of all of its members and stakeholders. Profitability is an important part, while not the be all and end all of who we are and who we want to be.
One member, one vote: In corporations, one majority shareholder or group of shareholders can control the entire business. In a co-op, it’s one member, one vote. All members are equal and each has a voice in the running of the business. For Crux, that means new partners joining us will have an equal footing with other members.
Profit sharing: when the time comes to share the spoils of our success, each member will be able to receive what they’ve put into the business. Those who have contributed more will gain more. Other models reward the ones who have the most shares, notwithstanding the amount of work put into the business.
Values: we believe in the principles related to co-operatives: self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, social responsibility, community, and collaboration. In fact, there are seven basic principles for co-operatives.
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Member economic participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training and information
- Cooperation among co-operatives
- Concern for community
One principle in particular resonates for us: #6 – cooperation among co-operatives. So much so that we’ve named our very first industry solution product after it. Soon we’ll be telling you more about Article 6, a program we’re developing with Canadian credit unions.
Exit strategy: it might seem counter-intuitive, but one of the very first things business partners need to decide when they come together is how they will leave the business. Will they disband? Will the remaining partners buy out the exiting partner? We’ve seen so many consulting firms fall apart when one partner needs to walk away. Co-operatives deal with this in a fairly straightforward manner that does not put the business at risk. The remaining partners can feel at ease that as a member moves on or retires, the business will still be there, and will continue to grow.
Coaching and mentoring: the Crux partners have many years of experience and business knowledge between them. We want to pass that on to our associates and help them grow as consultants. We’ve welcomed young adults entering the job market who are looking to learn and observe and grow with our guidance. We’ve got a soft spot for high-energy people who have leadership skills in a high pressure environment – like Starbucks baristas, for example. Parents who are re-entering the workforce once their children become more independent are a great fit as well. We love to hear that a new consultant has their eye on someday becoming a partner and is willing to put in the work to get there. And we’ll be with them every step of the way, encouraging and helping them to reach their goals.
A co-operative is essentially a social enterprise that strives to meet the needs of its community – its members, business partners and clients – essentially anyone who is touched by the work that co-operative does. And that is the ultimate goal for Crux Group. To serve all our stakeholders as best we can and help them reach their strategic goals. To work with our consultants and each other to create financial security and a positive and supportive work environment. And finally, to strive towards the ever elusive work-life balance.