Business Technology

Fast paced and constantly evolving: The life of an FD in the food sector

4 min read

21 December 2015

In August, Farmcare, the UK’s leading rural and agricultural business, appointed finance director Rob Argyle to help drive its first mile strategy. Argyle talked to Real Business about being an FD in the food industry, as well as driving the company forward after it was acquired by Wellcome Trust.

Upon your announcement as FD it was mentioned that your experience sat further down the supply chain. What of your current experience do you think will help you succeed in the role?

Having worked for most of my career in a manufacturing business, where the focus was firmly on cost control, I learned to constantly question “why?” This discipline is key when it comes to improving ways of working and reducing costs at Farmcare. My past career has made it second nature to me to challenge the business to look at doing things better, and to find more efficient ways of doing things.

What is it like being a FD in the food industry – are there various challenges you think are more prevalent in the sector compared to others?

The food industry, and especially agriculture, is notorious for the constant price challenges that it faces. Added to that, we’re working in a truly global marketplace and face stiff competition from the world over. So, if for example, the US is growing wheat well and cheaply, we’re faced with squeezing costs and producing competitively. 

There is very limited influence that we can bring to the ultimate selling price of our products and therefore we need to ensure that we control our costs, as well as ensuring that we try to continuously improve in the way that we do things.

What attracted you to the sector?

I’ve worked in the food industry for most of my career and I was initially drawn to the sector for its fast pace and the requirement to constantly evolve to do things better. There’s a constant need to innovate as retailers are not only price driven but keen to differentiate their product from fierce competition and by the demands of informed consumers. 

So, at our end of the supply chain that drives product innovation and means that the agricultural sector also has to be innovative in terms of processes and looking at leaner ways of doing things.

How do you think finance functions could be further improved on farms?

At Farmcare this year we’ve taken a huge leap forward in terms of how the finance function on farms works. We’ve taken a lead on investing heavily into a sophisticated IT infrastructure that allows the finance department to work from a concentrated skill base at our head office in Manchester. 

By applying this remote technology and partnering with farms to support them from a central function, we’ve introduced a more a cohesive way of working. This has really helped address the historical challenge presented by fragmented geographical locations, that saw us operating disparately across ten farms countrywide.

How do you plan to drive the company forward following it being bought by Wellcome Trust?

By doing things better and more leanly we can re-invest in the business to feed the innovation process and propel future growth. By ensuring that we continue to re-invest in the business, we can ensure that Farmcare continues to progress towards becoming the UK’s leading rural growing business. This is very much the opportunity that the Wellcome Trust saw when they acquired the business in 2014.