LONDON — Social impact communications agency Shape History has completed a management buy-out, with founder Mike Buonaiuto transferring ownership to majority shareholders and joint managing directors Lauren Kay-Lambert and Ed Fletcher.

As part of the deal, Buonaiuto (pictured, right) will step back as CEO but remain as chairman of the agency board. Kay-Lambert (centre) and Fletcher (left), who took on the joint MD roles two years ago, will also join the board.

The MBO, which has been planned for the past nine months, is for an undisclosed sum but Buonaiuto said the deal had “secured a 20x return" on the agency’s original angel investment obtained in 2015 via the UK’s SEIS early stage investment scheme.

Before starting Shape History, Buonaiuto was Weber Shandwick's head of content and distribution for the UK and EMEA. He has also worked as creative director of New York strategy and creative agency Purpose and head of film and video at BECG. 

Fletcher, who joined Shape in 2018 as head of partnerships, was previously head of fundraising and communications for charity Hope for Children, while Kay-Lambert joined the agency in a junior role as a campaign manager in 2016, before being made head of campaigns two years later. 

Over the past seven years, the 45-strong agency has worked on political and social impact campaigns for organisations including WHO Africa, SurvivorsUK, the World Hepatitis Alliance and international development group The Elders, as well as on the #FreeToProtest campaign in Kenya and the Arsht Rock Resilience Center’s US campaign on climate change.

Buonaiuto told PRovoke Media: “Our whole mission was to deliver strategic communications support for measurable, real-world behaviour change. We’ve behaved true to our values and created a blueprint for other ethical agencies who want to marry purpose with profit.

“I never set out to sell, but when it makes sense, you have to follow it through, and the three of us were aligned from day one of working on the MBO. The ambitions for continued growth and social impact are wonderfully exciting.”

Buonaiuto said he would remain in an advisory role as the new leadership team at Shape History continued to build the business, and he would also be working with other purpose-driven start-ups in various sectors on a consultancy basis.

“I’d like to help businesses to see that old-power measurements of shareholder value are holding them back from stepping into a new role in society in a more effective way, and to convince boards to see the value in social impact as well as profit. Organisations like B-Corp have been fundamental in starting those conversations, but too many businesses still have a long way to go,” he said.