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Guy's news: succession and ownership; still thinking

So far, none of my children share my enthusiasm for farming and vegetables. I think I put them off with an excess of weary grumpiness in the early years when I brought too much vegetable woe into the house. So if they don’t get the business, who does? The sale of Abel & Cole to venture capitalists in 2007 precipitated a plague of oily suits from the city, snaking their way to my door and promising to lubricate my passage into well-heeled retirement. The prospect felt like selling one of my children to a brothel, plus, all the entrepreneurs that I have met who sold up are depressed; not surprising considering how some say an excessive drive to succeed is a good sign of an unhinged mind. What does surprise me, given all the evidence to the contrary, is that anyone would think £30m would make you happier than £3m.

My beef with raw capitalism is the demeaning absurdity of its founding assumption that greed is the only reason anyone would want to do something well. I like the John Lewis model so our plan is to move towards employee/stakeholder ownership if we can avoid trussing managers up in workers’ committees. The appalling situation at the Co-op bank shows that ideology and values can never be a substitute for competence and good management.

Meanwhile we will continue to strive for competence (excellence even, on a good day) under enlightened but fairly conventional management where those at the top (including me) earn no more than nine times those at the bottom, and profits not needed for reinvestment are divided evenly between our staff. And I promise the business will never be owned or controlled by people who don’t work in it, sell to it or buy from it. More on how we plan to get there next week.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    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 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people 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.

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