Guy’s news: Help. We need governance

My last boss’s parting words 30 years ago were that I was ‘unemployable, ungovernable and mad’. I thought he was pretty bonkers too; most entrepreneurs are, and they are almost always resistant to rules, structures and governance. Running your own business, when it works, is an extraordinary privilege and indulgence; for the most part you can do what you like without self-justification. 30 years of ungovernability (tempered by my fellow directors) have got me this far, but it is time to grow up. What could be worse than an aging man asserting himself with more force than wisdom?

In six months, Riverford will be employee owned and, as enshrined in our nascent ethos statement and articles, will be accountable to staff, suppliers, customers and community rather than to me (though I am not going anywhere and will maintain a minority share). We are in the process of developing a governing structure that will reflect the dispersed power and devolved decision
making. There will be an elected staff council, a fairly conventional executive board and five trustees (two external) to hold them to account. The biggest challenge will be to achieve this without getting bogged down in treacle. If we get it right, and I have every confidence we will, our staff will be more fulfilled and engaged, we will learn faster, be more innovative and, ultimately, better at what we do. We might even show that there is a better way of doing business.

To help us, we are looking for two external trustees and two non-executive directors to bring in external experience and wisdom and to accelerate our learning, while avoiding some pitfalls along the way. Our path will never be a conventional one, and I hope we will continue to challenge orthodox assumptions about business, but it is vital to understand the conventions we are challenging. To do that, we need trustees and non-execs with broad experience gained in substantial (probably bigger than us) and complex organisations, plus an appetite for both challenging and facilitating as part of a team… in short, enough force and a lot of wisdom.

Know someone who might fit the bill? You will find full job descriptions at riverford.co.uk/aboutus/jobs.

Guy Watson

6 responses to “Guy’s news: Help. We need governance

  1. Rosemarie Wright

    I sadly think you are loosing your way, I was always impressed with Riverford because it was independent, owned by a man who had principles and beliefs in the Organic way and campaigned for what he thought is right with good quality food but I feel sadly it will become like any other corporate company with everyone having to have their penneth worth of say and profit and shareholders a priority. The Ocado of the Organic world.

  2. Is corporate company the right word to describe what Riverford will become? I guess I had the wrong picture because I imagined it would be more accountable to customers, workers and the community and not just shareholders?

  3. I don’t see shareholders being mentioned but I do see accountability to staff, suppliers, customers and community – a very different scenario. Key thing is to learn from the Abel & Cole experience where the business effectively sold its soul and only now is it starting to rediscover [some] of its organic roots and principles. Riverford has to protect its future and maybe this is the best way to ensure it doesn’t get sold off to asset stripping venture capitalists who have no feel for Riverford’s ethics and business model. I have in my mind that what Riverford is trying to achieve is similar to, if not the same as, the John Lewis Partnership model.

  4. Culture is key! There is no reason why the culture of the corporate management cannot reflect the culture of the company as a whole, indeed that is essential for continuing success. All good business is a dream, then a strategy to achieve plus well controlled processes that can be managed by those so achieving.

  5. Have just watched the Prosperity video. I found it really interesting and inspiring. I just wish, in the UK, that my generation (‘sixities protestors) could rinse themselves of cynicism arising from the continual political party betrayals where ethical principles and good intentions have been sacrificed on the alter of neo-liberal economics.

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