My Biggest Mistake: Anthony Rosen

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The Independent Online
MY EARLY impressions of farm life were formed during the War years, when I spent frequent school holidays on my uncle's farm in Suffolk.

It seemed a near-idyllic life with long summer days spent turning ripening hay, stooking sheaves of corn and walking behind the horses, harrowing or rolling the heavy Suffolk soil. It never rained.

During National Service, I was taught to fly by the Army, and from the air farming looked even more appealing - tranquil, scenic and prosperous.

And so, after a high-pressure, one-year agricultural course, I gained some useful experience working as a head tractor driver (of two]) on a farm in Gloucestershire. Managing a farm for a wealthy businessman came next, and there I initiated the development of an expanding farming operation.

But 15 interesting and happy years later, nepotism reared its ugly head. - in hindsight fortuitously.

In the 1960s, there were good returns to be made on capital invested in tenant farming, so in 1970 I put a proposition to an ex-Army friend, who was then managing director of Matthews Wrightson, the influential insurance brokers.

With their strong support, and capital, Fountain Farming came into being, alongside Matthews Wrightson's already established Fountain Forestry.

By the mid-1970s, Fountain Farming had become the largest farming company in Europe with more than 30,000 acres. It grew cereals, vegetables and grass, and had 6,200 dairy cows plus followers, 3,000 beef animals and 25,000 sheep. Annual turnover was more than pounds 6m.

Running parallel to the British operation was an Iranian enterprise, called Sherkate Sahami Landkesht, which grew 6,000 acres of intensive vegetables. At that time, the Shah was sitting firmly on his throne.

In 1978, there came two revolutions. The much-publicised one caused the abdication of the Shah of Iran and the end of our operations there - fortunately with no financial loss. The other, more discreet but more serious for me, was the dramatically orchestrated removal of the company chairman, my Army friend.

My biggest mistake was in believing that performance is more important than personalities. It isn't.

I initially thought that the removal of the chairman meant simply that I would continue to run Fountain Farming from its rural fastness and could ignore the musical chairs at head office. How wrong I was.

It soon became apparent that the new team at Stewart Wrightson (as Matthews Wrightson had become) had decided that the 'country boys' must go. I was summoned to head office.

There I was informed that Fountain Farming was to be sold and that I could have no more than three months, instead of the 18 months that I felt was necessary, to sort out the 46 agricultural tenancies and find a new owner.

Following a typical City decision, what had been a phenomenally profitable and expanding business, employing 200 people, was split up and the hard-won land returned to its landlords. Many of these landlords are farming the land today, in all cases highly profitably.

(Photograph omitted)