When we decided to start a small broiler business in Swaziland, we needed a regular supply of day-old chicks. There were none available locally, and with cross-border movement of all live animals regulated by the government, we needed to arrange the necessary import permits.
This was to be the first local commercial production unit of processed chicken in the country and I had expected an enthusiastic response, but from the outset, the chief veterinary officer was uncooperative. “Why don’t you import hatching eggs and set up a hatchery in Swaziland?” he asked.
I patiently explained that we were new to this game; that the Swazi market was limited; that we would have to take market share from SA exporters; and that a hatchery was a major investment and until we had a secure local market, it was too high a risk.
Seeing for himself
“How can you say the market is small?” said the vet. “There’s a population of over a million people and they all love eating chicken.” Now, I had met this vet before. He had been trained in Europe, but as educated and worldly as he was, he had no perspective when it came to business and the chicken business specifically. So we arranged for him to visit a large broiler operation in South Africa.
Once he had seen the scale and complexity of the business and gained the perspective he was lacking, we got all the import permits we needed.
A manager requires a daunting range of personal characteristics: intelligence, decision-making skills, planning ability, empathy, self-discipline, communication skills, and so on. But few of these admirable qualities will be brought to bear in running the business unless the manager has ‘perspective’.
Perspective is the crucial capacity that provides the frame of reference against which the merits of any decision can be soundly judged. While it may be difficult to develop your communication skills, or sharpen your sense of humour, it’s relatively easy to deal with a lack of perspective. The biggest stumbling block is not knowing you lack it!
When faced with a decision outside your normal sphere of activity, ask yourself: “Do I have the necessary perspective to make a sound decision on this matter?” If, on honest reflection, the answer is “Yes”, go ahead and make the decision. If, however, the answer is “No”, you really have only two ways of dealing with it.
Call in someone with experience in the field and the necessary perspective to advise you. Or give yourself the opportunity to gain perspective by doing what the vet did in Swaziland. Get off the farm. Do some travelling. Visit similar operations in your area, elsewhere in Africa or overseas. You will not find a more productive way of building perspective and gaining insights than by visiting farmers and markets in other parts of the world. It is so easily done, but so few farmers ever do it!
This article was originally published in the 10 July 2015 issue of Farmer’s Weekly.