Exclusive interview: Santa Claus converts to a co-op

https://www.flickr.com/people/17728695@N00What got you interested in converting to a co-operative?

In Lapland, we have a sparsely populated country with a short summer and a long, hard winter. So the idea of people working together to get things done comes naturally. I have always admired the co-operatives I have seen in Finland, where there are more members, added together, than there are people.

Yes, we talked about privatisation, but it seemed mad to me the idea of a service to young children in the hands of venture capital and institutional investors. So, we looked at co-op models.

How do you work now as a co-op?

There are so many myths about Santa Claus and to be honest all that mystery helps the brand, so I am not about to reveal quite how we operate. But the co-operative structure is simple and is based, of course, on the values of elf-help.

The workshop naturally lends itself to a worker ownership ethos and giving ownership to those involved, or out on the sleighs helps to reinforce the Christmas spirit, even when we are at our absolute most busy.

We have adapted the co-op model of one person, one vote to a multi-species co-operative, with one elf, one vote / one reindeer, one vote and we are interested over time in whether we can bring children in as a separate membership constituency.  There are a lot of co-ops moving towards this kind of ‘multi-constituency’ model, of a 360 degree co-op which gives members rights to everyone involved. I wouldn’t say it is easy, and we have to work hard to build a common culture and set of values that are shared right across the enterprise. Over time, we could become what some people call a platform co-op – using technology to link members in a genuinely joint endeavour.

I do want to thank Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative Bank, which gave us valuable advice on converting to a co-op through the Hive Programme – that advice is open to all co-ops or would-be co-ops and the UK is a particularly good place to be registered in as a co-operative society.

What are the benefits of being a co-op, Santa?

In a word, people. We work in a fast-paced Christmas market, with the need for constant innovation. Every year, we have to up our productivity, because population levels worldwide are rising and that means, in particular, more young people than ever before. At the same time, with sleighs and sledges, we aim to operate a low carbon delivery network, based on biofuels and a circular economy model. We are big on automation, but ultimately Christmas is a people business. Young people around the world look to me. You can have all the artificial intelligence you want but still fail to get artificial intimacy.

Do you co-operate with other co-operatives – the ‘Principle 6’ approach?

Well, it is early days but we are very excited by the potential to source gifts from co-operative supply chains. Some of the vegan produce on offer in Chorlton in England from Unicorn Grocery, some of the Principle 6 label goods from US food co-ops, the award-winning champagne from the UK Co-op Group – all of these are good for spreading goodwill.

Do you have any advice for the 2.9 million co-ops you will fly over this Christmas?

Just be good. And remember that the secret of success is sharing it.

Pictures: Bailiwick Studios; Co-operative Heritage Trust

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