Guy’s newsletter: the restraint of greed

A few of you have warned me over the years that while you like the veg, you can do without my “commie rants”. I try to confine my weekly musings to the farm but trying to run a business responsibly is itself a political act, so here’s another.

When, five years ago, I realised the business had grown beyond my management skills, I was fortunate to find my managing director Rob Haward; a man who shares my beliefs. Along with setting up a staff profit-share scheme, Rob and I agreed that no-one in the company, including us, would ever earn more than nine times the lowest wage. This may not seem radical but it was as far as we could go without making recruitment and retention of senior and specialist staff impossible; a typical ratio for a UK company of our size is between 15 and 25:1.

Since the recession began and despite Cameron’s cries of “we are in it together”, the rich-poor pay gap has spiralled out of control; executive pay was 60 times the national average salary in the 1990s, but 180 times that today. Indeed in the USA, since the recession the top 1% have taken a staggering 93% of income growth, and the picture is similar here. Not even the most rabid freemarket advocate could argue that is fair. I found myself musing on all this as a result of listening to Robert Peston’s excellent BBC Radio 4 series The Price of Inequality, but my blood reached boiling point last week with news that HSBC appears to have colluded in tax evasion by the super-rich. Worst of all was the extraordinarily complacent response of Cameron, HMRC and HSBC. Have we really sunk into such collective lethargy where we accept such moral bankruptcy as inevitable? Yet, as Robert Peston asserted to an incredulous billionaire; there are powerful rewards other than money. Given half a chance most of us want to do a good job and contribute to something worthwhile, but those potentially very strong motivations are eroded in the face of greed of the rich and powerful.

Despite all of this and to my immense pride (and my MD’s credit) there is a feeling at Riverford that we really are in it together, and we have never had better or more motivated staff, despite being increasingly out of step with executive pay. The restraint of greed can only start at the top.

Guy Watson

31 responses to “Guy’s newsletter: the restraint of greed

  1. Wallasey Labour Party

    Guy criticises HMRC this week!

    Bob Blundell

  2. Keep the”rants” coming I say 🙂

  3. Thankyou Guy, very interesting Blog. Regards Jacqui

  4. I quite enjoy the rants actually Guy! I also have a rummage through the box for your newsletter, I think I may have become slightly obsessed! Thanks for being so real and sorting out the best veg my family ever tasted. Peace 🙂

  5. We like your commie rants, Guy, please don’t stop!

  6. ABSOLUTELY AGREE GUY! Keep up with your “commie rants” totally agree with you about the divide! My income, due to early retirement has roughly halved, used to be a career girl, but company I worked for changed over the years and ended up going out of business after I left. Ill health played a part, but I am happier than I have been for a long time!

  7. Such a breath of fresh air. Thank you for your political awareness and your positive contribution to the solution. Thank you:)

  8. I share your view on the morale bankruptcy of corporate executives with respect to both salary and bonus structures. The envy argument should no longer be used as a defence for a system that is obviously morally broken. However, I can’t see the brake being put anytime soon whilst the use of pay bodies and top quartile benchmarks for pay & bonus is exploited shamelessly as a base line coupled with the clubby world that protects them.
    Maybe there should be an accountability factor build in so that executives who receive the greater multiples face a higher degree of direct personal and criminal responsibility for the actions of their people. For example if you exceed a threshold (say) 100x multiple of your lowest worker you personally get to stand in the dock if one of your people commits a crime linked to your company. No more passing the buck down the line.
    Must go now, I just saw a pink pig fly past the window…

  9. Apart from liking your veg, one of the reasons I stay with Riverford is that your “commie rants” shine a steady light into the ever growing darkness of our brave new globally economic disaster. Keep them coming, we love them here!

  10. Vivien Cruickshank

    Well said! I suppose it depends where you are on the political scale, but for my part, I would say, keep up the “commie rants”.
    As for HSBC, well, too many governmental fingers in pies for anything to come of that. As usual no heads will roll, but “lessons will be learnt”. Don’t you just love that expression. If I commit a crime, I shan’t expect to be imprisoned if I utter those magic words.
    Corruption is rife, and they don’t even bother to hide it anymore, and why should they. It is obvious to them that they can go on and commit these crimes against the country and still get voted in. Lethargy reigns!

  11. I would have said apathy, Vivien! Bur heigh ho, it’s much the same!

  12. Julian Summerhayes

    Morning Guy.

    There is a sense, as Osho once remarked, that we all acting as somnambulists–whether that be at the individual, collective, Governmental or World level. I’m not exhorting civil unrest but you have to wonder, save war or famine, when things will change?

    I admire you and your team for setting a standard that should be the norm not the exception. (It reminds me of some of Gary Hamel’s work.) But even that feels at odds with a society that rewards service and words such as (faux) leadership over usefulness (you can’t tell me that someone who answers the phone is any less important than the MD).

    To my mind though we’ve seriously lost the plot when all we hear is the utterance of growth. Growth for what? Surely the message should be equality, sustainability and reconnection with a higher self?

    Keep up the commentary please. The more we can share your message the better.


  13. You go Guy! We need people like you……and your produce tastes great!

  14. Keep up the commie rants! They are inspiring, as are all your other posts!

  15. Love your commie rants Guy. Can you give us an update on who owns Riverford? Do you have a Board? Do staff reps sit on the Board?Principled and visionary business owners can do great things, free from the quagmire of overly consultative decision-making. But what happens when that leader gets run over by a tractor? Who controls the company?

  16. It is precisely because of Guy’s so called ‘commie rants’ that I anticipate and enjoy reading his thoughts about farming,life’s inequalities, greed and corruption. Guy’s honesty and fairness and maintaining the strength of his convictions reinforce why I stick with Riverford, despite past problems – keep going Guy!

  17. If anyone thinks that this newsletter is a commie rant has never met a commie. It just shows how views have shifted, though. When I was a young man (too long ago) I would have considered the blog to be very mild, and most of my friends thought I was a bit right of centre.

    Keep it up.

    ps: Julian is right. Serious studies have invariably concluded that the typical CEO’s effect on a company is approximately zero, and more likely to be detrimental than beneficial.

  18. Congratulations,you seem to have got the pay situation just about right, best wishes, Hilary

    Sent from my iPad


  19. Well said!! Keep it up. I don’t expect it will make any difference to those at the top but we can only try.

  20. Can you hear the applause? How very well said, Guy. That greed is a disease, an illness that blinds. Sadly, many at the top of the food chain don’t really care.

    I thoroughly enjoy your rants, as they are well-founded. Keep it up!

  21. Good for you and your team but unless more do the same nothing will change. Very few people have any morals or any awareness of the lack of morals. We can only be responsible for what goes on in our own back yard.

  22. ‘Commie rant’? Really? More like ‘Common sense rant’ – the customer in question probably had too much parsnip in his box and mistyped in anger (well it gets me going). Seriously though, Guy’s letters often give me an insight into the realities of food production today which the super-markets try to obscure in their marketing and, err, capitalist rants (that and my pitiful attempts to grow some weeds in what I like to call the veg patch, or my family the re-enactment of the Irish potato famine). It made me understand that the talk of the ‘necessity of ongoing growth’ is nothing than excuses for waste, over-consumption, and the constant need to feed the shareholders, very clearly benefitting just a few and not the majority. The existence of food disposal facilities at supermarkets along with food banks needed for hundreds of thousands of people in this country alone is an obscenity. Since the revolution I want is better coming from Brussel Sprouts and not Russel Brand (sorry sorry) I’m looking forward to more rants. But not parsnip.

  23. Thank you Guy. This is why we go on buying from Riverford. There may be times when we think Oh no, not artichokes, or what no carrots this week! BUT we know that we can rely on you to pay fairly and treat your suppliers with respect. I have despaired of dairy farmers going out of business because of the squeeze on their profits by the big supermarkets so we always buy milk from you now. Thank goodness there are still some people who are prepared to make something other than maximum profit the top priority. Long may it continue. And your rants. I love reading them!

  24. Treating your staff fairly makes your fruit and veg taste all the better. The commi rants are great.

  25. Hmmn. The newspapers, if you read them, and the media are ranting on enough about HSBC, bankers and greed etc. Can it be that only those comments supporting Guy are printed here? Your business ethos cannot be faulted Guy, but i would rather read a news letter from you that concentrates on your weekly farming activities and on lovely recipes, leaving the ranting to others.

  26. I’m buying your boxes especially because of your beliefs and my desire to support them, so don’t change!

  27. Without a bit of ethical standpoint musing you would be ANother box scheme, it’s what makes me pause when I am approached by new start-up (box schemes) or competitors ~ you’ve made Riverford feel local.

  28. Can I join with the many who say, “Keep ranting!” Like the vegetables, it’s all good stuff!

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