Report Synopsis

Rural Estates: Objectives, Governance and Growth

Peter Wiggins-Davies

I have three passions in my life: family, friends and Revesby Estate, and am fortunate enough to often enjoy all three at once. Revesby Estate is my family estate. It was first founded in 1143, and my family has celebrated over 300 years of unbroken ownership. To me the estate is more than just a business. It is almost a relative that needs caring for. My time is now and my stewardship will affect how future generations enjoy the estate.

The aim of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship was to help me fulfil my stewardship to the best of my abilities: to help me achieve my aim of passing the estate on to the next generation in a better condition: for the estate to deliver what I wish it to deliver.

A Nuffield Farming Scholarship is for travelling and my country selection was based on:

  • Countries with a different economic environment to the UK
  • Countries with a different social culture to the UK
  • Countries that have successfully applied the principles behind my topic
  • Countries that have a known point of interest

The above criteria resulted in me choosing to visit Germany, Greece, the United States of America, and Australia. While visiting these countries I made an effort to learn from both comparable and noncomparable businesses.

The first country I visited was Germany, with its very comparable estates sector. I learnt very quickly my objective of “in better condition” should not just be financially answered. I learnt that the estates sector is complicated and unique. Estates have the following building blocks:

  • Custodianship
  • Visual and historic objectives
  • Social objectives
  • Environmental objectives
  • Complicated family involvement
  • Diversified income streams

Stewardship refers to all of the above building blocks. If these building blocks are to be fulfilled a strategy needs creating. I believe that a simple strategy under the following headings can help fulfil this unique estate challenge:

  • Succession
  • Keeping the family together
  • Non-financial objectives
  • Financial objectives

Once these estate building blocks are fulfilled, estates need to be managed like any other business. All the countries visited taught me the importance of strong foundations. I learnt that the key to a strong foundation is:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Employees
  • Routine functions routinely
  • A hunger to learn from others
  • An accurate understanding of assets and operations
  • An accurate understanding of financial and non-financial performance

Only once the unique estate building blocks are fulfilled and the foundation is strong, should estates start to approach growth. I learnt that I was wrong viewing growth as solely bolt-on projects. The most successful businesses had a “golden thread” (identity). The most common ways in which businesses were growing were:

  • Scale/replication
  • Cross selling and vertical integration
  • Driven by subsidy
  • Diversification

I leant about growth evaluation, debt, and the importance of the business brand.

To conclude, my Nuffield Farming Scholarship has changed my entire business approach. No longer am I a magpie constantly attracted to new and shinier things. The day-to-day and the foundation are now getting far more attention. I am discovering my “golden thread” and aiming for a more organic growth.

Estates are businesses with responsibilities, and not charities.

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