The most striking thing about the responses were how uniform they were and that a common set of themes was being articulated. The message was as follows:
The AF I came into had become too fat. It was trying to do too many things, had a cost base that was unsustainable, and had forgotten the core principles the society had been founded upon.
One of the first jobs was to write a clear and defined strategy, a strategy that would look after the people connected with the business. It was obvious to split the strategy into three distinct parts: the members, the staff, and the suppliers. I knew that if we got those aspects right then the business would not only survive, it would start to thrive. This meant taking the tough decision to reduce costs and, unfortunately, streamline the business by losing people. As hard as that decision was, I never doubted it was the right thing to do.
It was vital that the strategy re-engaged with staff, treated members like customers (who also happen to own the business), and to build strong partnership with key suppliers.
The strategy is still a living and breathing thing but, as I leave, I am proud that there is an environment in the business of trust and partnership; a can-do attitude and a no-blame culture. For the first time ever we conducted staff engagement surveys, with the result that we now have a workforce that is deeply engaged and committed to long term success. Our suppliers now know how we can build value together by adding certainty, planning, and reducing costs. We also regularly get feedback from members through our NPS survey. I know that you, the members, feel more understood and appreciate the value that AF adds to your business.
I have always said that AF should run as a hard-nosed commercial business; a business that understands its customers and realises that unless the customer is satisfied then the business does not deserve to be successful.
As I leave it would be easy to look back at the financial performance of the society and the three subsidiaries. Whilst the numbers have been good and I am proud of how the business has grown I am hesitant to admit that I won’t actually remember any of the numbers in a few months or years. What I will always remember are the people. Thank you to each and every one of you. Agriculture is a great industry, our farmers are the backbone of our rural society and the keystone in the food and drinks industry, but AF members are the beating heart of this organisation. To those that complained I hope I listened, to those who wanted solutions I hope I helped, and to those that needed a shoulder to lean on I hope I gave my support.