Peter Wiggins-Davies: Bringing history into the 21st century

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A cross between Jamie Oliver and Downton Abbey is how Peter Wiggins-Davies describes running Revesby Estate near Boston with his father — an asset which has been in the family for more than 300 years.

The large historic site dates back to 1143 when it was a monastery, later becoming a private gift to King Henry VIII’s brother-in-law the Duke of Suffolk, before transferring to the ownership of the Wiggins-Davies family and becoming part of their legacy.

With the stately character and traditional estate structure, it is no wonder he compares it to the fictional Downton Abbey estate. The character is emphasised by its estate village with a green and church, extensive woodlands, deer parks, beautiful cottages, luxurious homes and a picturesque fishing reservoir.

The modern Revesby Estate is very diverse, operating in many sectors including growing, retail product, retail memories, property and investments.

Having grown up working on the estate and studying agriculture and farm management at the Harper Adams University, Peter couldn’t imagine himself doing anything other than continuing the legacy of his family history and the business.

“I was 100% born to do it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Peter said. “This is 100% me, this is what I am – the estate.

“I’ve been in a management position for 10 years but I’ve been involved in the estate from a very early age — since I was eight or nine, helping out with all the departments.

“In terms of business management, I spend as much of my time as possible managing strategy as opposed to the day to day nuts and bolts.

“We have really good systems in place and we set clear KPIs. I’m a firm believer in process mapping and starting off with an objective and then trying to understand all of the logical steps required and what resources each one of those steps needs to get the desired outcome.”

He has helped to integrate the historic estate with state of the art technology from micro-chipping fish to iPhone operated agricultural machinery and self-navigating tractors. In addition, Peter has travelled the world for agricultural answers which could help shape the future of not just the business, but the UK’s agricultural industry.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

The Revesby Estate is made up of thousands of acres. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

A world of knowledge

With a very complicated estate owned and run by the Wiggins-Davies family, Peter is constantly on the lookout for new, innovative and efficient ways to expand and advance Revesby Estate’s offerings.

Peter is a big believer in further education, and he has literally scoured the earth for answers as to how to improve business through the Nuffield Farming Scholarship.

“The Nuffield is where the successful applicant chooses a topic of their choice, and the countries of their choice and then organises meetings and flys around the world trying to answer that topic. My topic is the evaluation and implementation of effective growth in rural estates.

“So I have been visiting countries around the world understanding how they do operate in comparison to us. I’m a firm believer in the power of shared knowledge.”

So far, he has travelled to America, Greece, Germany, Ireland and Australia on his quest for information.

“I think there are two advantages. The first is that the report I put together and the presentations that I am going to make will, I hope, have some benefit to the industry at large. Secondly, it has certainly had a very positive impact on Revesby.”

Efficiency and structure are everything to Peter, from graphs and sticky notes, to making sure that the whole estate has the technology needed to bring it into the 21st century and possibly even further.

“Today we are especially reliant on technology. That starts from the paperless office filing systems, all the way through to how we buy fertiliser or how we harvest our crops.

“Each department has its own form of special technology. The microchipping of fish is an exciting one that’s really proven to be fruitful.

“We chip our specimen carp with microchips and then monitor them on an annual basis. We then only breed from the fastest growing fish. This allows us to have a carp fishing venue of standing.”

High-tech agricultural machinery is also used on the estate. With grain drying equipment controlled by an iPhone and tractors that steer through satellite  technology, Peter can keep an eye on things while on his travels.

The ‘oldest and finest’ trees are even electronically tagged so their condition can be monitored remotely.

“We do a lot with state-of-the-art modern technology, but we also experiment with different methods of operation and we have contributed to a parliamentary review on the future strategy of British agriculture, so we do try to steer and influence policy.

“Technology has also transformed green energy, we invested three or four years ago quite heavily into green energy and we have five biomass district heating networks, they burn wood chip to create hot water and then we pump that hot water into our own houses. We then sell the heat back to the houses.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Peter Wiggins-Davies microchip fish to make sure they breed the biggest possible. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Always looking forward

Despite having thousands of acres of land, some eight managers and small teams under them, Peter and his father are always looking to expand with new enterprise opportunities — events being one of them.

“In today’s highly competitive globalised world, it is critical we do not stand still. We have several exciting new directions that we’re considering. The events side is one area that I am looking forward to growing particularly over the next couple of years.

“We have secured the South Wold Point to Point next year which is exciting. We are now looking at corporate hospitality.”

With weddings and business to business events, such as experience days, team building days and reward days on the cards, it opens up new ways in which the public and businesses can enjoy the estate.

“Rural estates often have a unique mixture of strengths and challenges. The challenges include family management (with family living on the shop floor), protection of historic assets, community responsibilities, a weighting towards capital and not liquid assets and very long term visions.

“To compound these challenges, political, economic, social and technological changes require rapid adaptation. Adaptation is something that rural estates are very good at, proven by their centuries of experience.

“Though, I fear the pace may be faster now than ever before. Only through a clear strategy executed within a strong culture, have we been able to capitalise on natural competitive advantage and operate many diverse departments – while still remaining true to our heritage, character and the family’s objectives.

“The key is to regard our history as the springboard for the innovation essential to achieving sustainable growth.”

Peter has officially moved away from being a traditional estate due to a ‘hunger for excitement’ to increase revenue streams and to reflect the new generation that is coming through.

“We’ve tried to grow the business into various things that we love and enjoy doing and we feel that we are better advantaged.

“The challenges of running a historic country estate like ours is that you have very old historic assets that don’t bring you any income at all, however you still maintain and look after these.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

The estate’s portfolio of company’s ranges from letting to forestry. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Finding that work-life balance

When working an 11 hour day, five days a week, it can take its toll, but Peter believes he has found the right balance to enjoy his work.

“I do honestly love all parts of the business. When you love what you do, you don’t notice the length, you just get so engrossed and enthralled in what you’re doing. It’s all so positive and enjoyable and when you have a really good team, and exciting changes happening, you just want to be committed.”

But once he gets home,  he is able to dedicate his time to his wife and daughter.

“Life is complicated enough without making it anymore complicated and you can 100% enjoy your work and still be very, very effective at your job. In fact, I think to be as effective as you can be you have to enjoy what you’re doing.

“One of the key things that I think is successful to a strong business is strong governance and supply chains and I think a board of directors is one of the things that really aids a business in reaching its full potential.”