Mega farmers: let them inspire you

Mega farmers share a common characteristic: their success depends on dealing successfully with people.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

Did you ever watch the show MegaBoere on kykNET, presented by Piet Croucamp? The good news is that it continues this month, and it should be mandatory viewing for every farmer in Africa. What these visionary mega farmers have achieved with their businesses is truly inspiring.

READ:Farmers must take responsibility for transformation

It is also remarkable how fast some of them have built their businesses. Take Piet Karstens, for instance. He started in 1968 on 6ha, and has built Karsten Boerdery into an international fruit giant.

Charl Senekal 
is another example. Today the biggest private cane grower in the country, he began his working life as a lab technician in the Pongola sugar mill. These men and women, and many others like them, give credence to Walt Disney’s inspirational statement: “If you can dream it, you can do it!”

Making family businesses work
Three other things struck me forcibly while watching the series. In every case, the success stories covered are owned and managed by families. While there are some first-generation entrepreneurs, such as Karstens and Senekal, most are led and managed by second-, third- and even fourth-generation family members.

They have successfully managed the difficult transition from small ‘Mom and Pop businesses’, through the second generation and then the troublesome third generation, when cousins become involved and the business often falls apart.

They started the family succession process early, established effective family communication structures and set clear rules for family involvement.

Getting to know staff properly

The second characteristic is the mega farmers’ appreciation of teamwork. They truly know that people are the greatest asset of any business. One so often sees this cliché printed in a mission statement, but quiz the manager about his staff, such as an employees’ wives’ and children’s names, their childhood backgrounds, and their family trials and tribulations, and you’ll get a blank look.

It’s not like this with the mega farmers. In the case of Karsten Boerdery, the employer develops a unique training and career plan for every permanent employee in consultation with this person. Updated regularly, it provides a clear vision for the employee’s future.

Social responsibility
The third characteristic is the high level of community involvement shown by these farmers. No farmer can succeed as an island of success and wealth in a sea of despair and poverty. Like a pebble thrown into a pond it sends strong ripples into the surrounding rural areas.

The mega farmers understand this. They play an active role in their communities, supporting crèches, schools, medical facilities and so on. And they don’t support them only with cash, because as important as this is, it is often administrative input that’s needed most.

Watch the new MegaBoere season and learn from South Africa’s most successful farmers. Who knows? You might also become a mega farmer one day.

This article was originally published in the 22 January 2016 issue of Farmers Weekly.