Happy new year; I hope you return to your kitchen well fed, rested and ready to embrace the challenges of the year ahead. For us, 2018 will mark 31 years of growing organic veg, 25 years of delivering them in veg boxes and, in May, the year Riverford becomes employee owned. As the clock ticks down to the big day, the challenge is not so much the legalities, the money or the governance but developing the culture, communication and maturity needed to transition from maverick-led to getting the best out of everyone.
I have met a lot of fellow founders and entrepreneurs. Like me they are typically impetuous, restless misfits who charge through life leaving havoc behind, driven on by a powerful mixture of arrogance and an insatiable need to prove themselves. Donald Trump’s election is a mark of the esteem reserved for entrepreneurs; they can achieve the extraordinary, but often at high cost to
themselves and those around them. The benefits they bring can outweigh the costs in a young, rapidly evolving organisation, but as the need for systems and consistency grows, such leaders can do more harm than good and it’s time for a more consultative approach. If I needed any added motivation to change how Riverford is led, watching the world’s most famous entrepreneur-turned-president floundering around like an overgrown baby, making his own rules while insulting or sacking anyone who challenges him, has provided it.
Maintaining Riverford’s inherent dynamism and youthful excitement while developing the skills to agree and share values and behaviours, and then work collectively towards achieving them, is not easy. Nurturing people and culture in this way makes growing organic vegetables seem easy, as at least you can be fairly sure they will be where you left them; a working culture can shift and slip
through your hands just as you are getting the measure of it. It is a journey which will last as long as Riverford does, but after taking the first tentative steps, all doubt is gone. Trump may dream of wealth and the power to crush anyone in the way; I dream of giving hope that there is another way, where we welcome diversity and help each other to be the best possible version of ourselves.