What do I know about pigs?
As a mentor, I didn’t need to know much about pigs at all. Just an understanding of what makes a good business tick, along with some time to listen and advise these budding young pig farmers.
Oh yes, and a belief that the younger generation can succeed in circumstances different to the ones that we grew up in.
Opportunities for consultancy work come from many places. The best leads come from referrals and recommendations; from the extended network; from proposals with my Blue Alumni colleagues.
But in this line of business you get all sorts of requests.
A few years back, after a particularly demanding week working away from home, I listened to my voicemail messages.
Could you ring me back, my two sons have just left college and they want to start a pig farm. I thought you may be able to give them some advice. They won’t listen to me.
It wasn’t the usual type of lead. In fact, I was certain it wasn’t a lead at all. It seemed to me that it was one of those occasions calling for some well-honed blagging skills. No problem, I’ll easily get out of any commitment on this one. After all, I’m far too busy on big corporate stuff to get involved.
But, this was a good friend asking for help. Both his budding pig farmer sons went to primary school with my daughters. We knew them well. So I hatched a diversion strategy. I’ll ask them for a business plan and when they say they haven’t got one I’ll ask them to go away and write one. That will keep them at bay for a week or two. Anyway, pig farmers don’t write business plans, do they? So hopefully nothing will come of it. But of course, they had a business plan. They sent it right away. It started with objectives like most good plans do:
Our aim is simple: to produce the ultimate pork.
The plan sucked you in. I read on. It was good. It was very good. Perhaps it needed a bit of tweaking here and there. I didn’t really understand the market. I certainly knew nothing about pig procreation – why should I? But they had something, and I was hooked. Were they being too ambitious? Perhaps they weren’t ambitious enough. Did they fully understand the risks? Time to get stuck in I thought.
Developing the plan and the business
Over the next few weeks they developed the business plan. This was a surprise. I expected that I’d have to roll my sleeves up and write bits; play around with a few spreadsheets perhaps; put together a cash flow or two – all the usual stuff. But in a short space of time we had a plan that they had written. It was a very good plan indeed. Nothing could go wrong.
Well of course it did. There was the problem of convincing banks to lend. There was a small hiccough when the bore (that’s the daddy pig to those of a non-rural background) ceased to do his duty – mind you the bore sausages were delicious! Two of the sows (mummy pigs) moved in together and lay on each other’s offspring – not a healthy place to be when you are a weeny two-day old piglet.
But the business grew. The guys were in control. The KPI’s were being delivered. They bought new stock. The butchery wasn’t up to their demanding standards, so they brought it in-house and learned how to do it themselves. They worked extremely hard, long hours, and for little reward initially. But their reputation in the market place grew. New markets were developed.
Where are they today?
The product was good. It is the ultimate pork after all. Initially it was going to be farmers markets. They started selling into one or two half decent local gastro pubs. They now supply some of the most prestigious Michelin restaurants in London and the South of England. They employ people. They run a small successful business with terrific potential. They even take holidays.
There’s still a long way to go. But I am proud to have been involved with these guys. They deserve all the success they get.
Perhaps you should try mentoring an up-and coming business sometime. It’s rewarding. You may get back more than a few rashers of bacon.
Yes the guys have a website, but it’s out of date as nearly all their business comes from personal referrals and recommendations (as all good consulting clients do of course). They are too busy to update it. But if you would like a look, here’s the link. Perhaps I’ll persuade them to update their website one day:
Article by Roger Read – Blue Alumni