Looking back over the past few centuries of industry and commerce, we generally find exploitation, rampant corporate greed, corruption, inequality and incredible disparities of power and wealth – interspersed with a few noble and respectable businesses. To discover and seek out these noble businesses is becoming a rarity, and what does it even mean as a business – to be noble?
As consumers, every day we are lured into dark alleys of brand loyalty through various morally ambiguous, coercive channels: celebrity-endorsed personifications of brands, corporate-sponsored research, persistent intrusion and deceptive PR. We struggle to see through the masks of corporate power. Businesses we know and trust tend to succumb to irresistible buyout offers, exchanging hands, stripped of identities we once loved. Corporations have a legal duty to relentlessly pursue profit, regardless of consequence, where the sole criterion for decision making is short-term profit.
Prior to starting at Riverford, my only previous work experience was a short placement in a not-for-profit. Feeling initial trepidation to dive into the murky waters of the private sector, I immediately felt cleansed by Guy’s visionary approach to business. Seven years later, as I’ve learnt more about the business and grown into a marketing position, my role is (broadly) to entice new customers to try Riverford. At times it can be like banging a drum, but behind the USP’s is a desperate sense of urgency – “here’s what a carrot should taste like!”
This article is not about selling the benefits of Riverford but instead to ask: what does it mean for workers to become co-owners? Personally, I felt a profound sense of relief wash over last June. We didn’t fall victim to a corporate takeover, management buyout or merger – we were entrusted with the reins of Riverford.
Our core values and ethics, as documented in Guy’s Founder’s Wishes, fill many of us with a deep sense of pride and connection. The legalities of this document provide a rooted, long term protection for Riverford that will allow us to find a better way of running a business. In the short term, I’m confident it will motivate and inspire us to work smarter, more efficiently and to find better ways of working at every level.
Filtering down these weighty values is no easy feat and will take time and persistence. Riverford still has a relatively traditional management hierarchy, but our staff council (of which I’m proud to be part) has been given real power, creating a democratic approach to business with an overt ability to question and challenge.
Riverford is not a perfect business, nor do we claim to be a utopian model of industry, however, as we progress along our journey to be noble pioneers, I hope that society can progress around us to deepen and extend democracy into the private sector, fully embracing different models of ownership. Until then, as Dylan states, we’ve all ‘gotta serve somebody’, and I feel fulfilled and content to work for a business where I’m serving my friends and colleagues, rather than The Man.