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Ethical business   |   News from the farm   |   Employee ownership

Guy’s news: The day has come

After 12 years of thought, debate and prevarication, we become 74 per cent employee owned on Friday 8th. There will be a huge party on the day; our customer services line will be closed from 1pm so everyone can celebrate. And on Monday, assuming they don’t sack me, I will come to work as one of 650 co-owners. Amongst all the signings, meetings and legal documentation, I am tearful, grumpy and awash with churning emotions – but doubt is not one of them.

I am convinced most people are kinder, less greedy, more creative, more thoughtful and can contribute more and be more productive than our institutions allow them to demonstrate. The best indication of business efficiency (and most valid prediction of future success) is getting the best out of people while giving the most back; return on capital is a poor, short-term proxy. I want to be part of an organisation that helps us be the best version of ourselves – that facilitates and grows people, rather than  undermining their humanity by appealing to ignoble sentiments, as capitalism too often does.

I could sell to the highest bidder and use the money to support good causes (the Bill & Melinda model), but I have nagging doubts about charity and would prefer to embed the changes I want to see in everyday life. To quote Ghandi: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change… We need not wait to see what others do.” The popular paraphrase, be the change you want to see in the world, leaves out the critical advice not to wait for others.

So, this Friday we will take Ghandi’s advice and get on with it. Time might prove me hopelessly idealistic, but I don’t think so; over the last year we have been working towards a more inclusive, human style of management, and the signs are so good that even our more militaristically minded managers are embracing the change. It feels as if an oppressive cloud is already lifting and a new dawn, full of exciting possibility, is revealing itself. In the end, the most critical factor is confidence: in each other and in our shared humanity; the confidence to be our whole selves, and not to wait for others to lead the way.

Those with the time and interest can now read Guy’s full ‘Founder’s Wishes’ statement at riverford.co.uk/founders-wishes

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Guy Singh-Watson

Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

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