What shapes company culture?

Different corporate structures and their inherent priorities produce very different working environments, says Martin Thorley of agri-recruiters Merston Peters Ltd. So if you’re looking to advance your agronomy career what’s the best option for you?

All companies are driven by the need to produce profits but not all are the same in how they pursue this goal.

Furthermore, the way they treat their people in the achievement of this primary aim varies widely, not just from one company to the next but also from one type of business structure to the next,

Virtually all areas of the agricultural supply industry have undergone change and consolidation in recent years with the crop production sector, arguably, seeing the most upheaval with the emergence of large corporations borne out of the merger of major distribution players.

For any PLC the main driver transcends just making money and staying in business, it revolves completely around delivering profits to those that have invested in it and showing a healthy and regular profit to the City.

Whilst all would say they’re focused on delivery to customers, few would argue their main priority is to keep their thousands of shareholders on-board through communicating fiscal strength and growth on a regular basis.

PLCs do have long-term vision but this is often over-ridden by such short-term priorities. In poor trading times aggressive cost cutting is often the only way to keep the ship on course and some of the easiest ways to achieve this quickly, unfortunately, are by cutting people. 

This culture often cascades down into a management style where senior managers, like in banks, are driven by huge incentive schemes where hitting the numbers becomes the only priority. Further down the line, it means every employee carries the weight of achieving this rather than focusing on delivering results and service and growing the business through customer success 

This suits some characters fine, but many professional people who started their careers in agriculture because they enjoy the technical side and working with farmers struggle in such an environment. 

At the other end of the spectrum to a PLC, you’ve got the prospect of working as an independent but in an increasingly competitive arena with ever-changing technology and chemistry to get your head around, it’s a tough call. 

But in the middle, you’ve got progressive privately owned businesses. There’s only a handful that have the necessary critical mass to combine a secure financial foundation with real innovation and growth potential, but these are where the real opportunities for professional, ambitious agronomists now lie.

Such businesses are driven by the need to grow their reputation through customer success so they focus almost solely on supporting and developing agronomy skills. They’re prepared to innovate and can move quickly without long drawn processes to do this. Furthermore, they don’t have complex management structures and give a lot more freedom for individuals to manage their customers and day-to-day business.

At one end of the private spectrum you’ve got emerging entrepreneurial players like Zantra recognising that not everybody wants to work for a large organisation and at the other there is ProCam offering the lifestyle benefits of working for a regional business with the career development opportunities and technical resources afforded by national scale – all underpinned by a robust and stable private trust.

Furthermore, when push comes to shove, a good private company is far more likely to have loyalty to the people that have helped it grow than a multitude of faceless investors that form the foundation of a PLC.

So ask yourself, who would you rather work for ?