Staying grounded amid global success
The Greensill story
When Peter Greensill phones London from his family farm in Bundaberg to speak with Lex Greensill, he is not just calling for a casual chat with his brother.
On these calls, Peter discusses the family agribusiness with a finance specialist so successful he was made a Commander of the British Empire in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to the economy.
Peter’s brother Lex, who is a co-owner and director of the family farming business Greensill Farming Group, founded supply chain finance provider Greensill Capital in 2011.
Lex went down that path after seeing first-hand the impact of late payments on small businesses through the pressure their parents experienced supplying multinationals from their small sugar cane farm.
He took his passion to the world, being appointed a senior advisor to the UK Prime Minister where he advised Downing Street and the White House on the successful launch of their Supply Chain Finance initiatives. He is also a Senior Advisor to Her Majesty’s Government on Supply Chain Finance.
Today, Greensill Capital’s team of 160 professionals in the UK and around the world provide more than one million small and medium sized enterprises with access to ultra-low-cost credit.
Back in Bundaberg Lex’s family is, of course, proud as punch.
“Not too many people who grow up on a little farm in Queensland have been able to be recognised in that way,” said Peter.
“It’s well-deserved – Lex works very hard at adding value to our business and he’s done a bunch of work for the US and UK governments to help them understand how to facilitate better supply chains. Those same skills being used on that global scale are being used here on the farm.”
It is rare that a day goes by without Peter and Lex chatting on the phone about Greensill Farming Group, which they co-own and direct with their brother Andrew Greensill.
Each brother uses his strength to build the commercial viability of the farm – Peter as the CEO, Lex as the finance expert and Andrew as the earth-moving and land development specialist.
The family has been farming in the Bundaberg region for three generations, but the last 18 months have been particularly big for Greensill Farming Group.
They added sweet potatoes to their watermelon and sugar cane croppings at the start of last year and they recently acquired another farming site to add to their operation.
They have more than 2000 hectares of cultivation spread across four main sites with a geographic spread of about 80km, and their business runs 24/7.
They employ 90 staff, most of them locals, and this year they brought on Peter’s brother-in-law Damien Botha – an experienced marketing and business professional – as their General Manager.
To further bolster their operation, Greensill Farming has an ongoing partnership with fellow Bundaberg sweet potato grower David Holt which strengthens their ability to provide continuity of supply and mitigates climate, pest and mechanical risks.
Greensill Farming, in partnership with Halt for Holts, exports throughout the Asia-Pacific region, sells through major supermarket chains and does fresh market sales nationally.
As well as fresh sales, they supply the value-add industry with semi-processed sweet potatoes which they prepare in their state-of-the-art pack shed they built in April 2016.
Peter said the value-add market was an area of growing opportunity.
“It’s changing the traditional model – that’s where the industry is going – and if there’s the capability to scale up we do,” he said.
“Going down that value-add line can also give piece of mind to fresh market growers elsewhere, because you’re not adding product directly to the current supply of fresh market. The more you can diversify into value-add, the more it allows for the current fresh market to continue and more premium product ends up on the market.”
The Greensill Farming Group is big – there is no doubt about it – but the Greensill brothers work to hold onto the family culture often associated with smaller businesses.
Andrew, Lex and Peter’s parents Lloyd and Judy Greensill are retired from the farming business now, but the three brothers have fond memories of growing up on the farm.
“As well as the cane and the melons, mum and dad did passionfruit on a small scale, and when we were little mum would put us in buckets on this little trolley she used to push along and she’d chuck all the passionfruit in the buckets with us,” said Peter.
“I remember mum polishing all the passionfruit with a rag under the house and I remember her packing melons.”
Peter said his parents implemented smart practices like rotating their small crops with sugar cane to improve the soil, and those practices are still used.
“I don’t really know any other sweet potato growers who successfully grow sugar and rotate it but it’s probably just something we’ve always done in our melon-based cropping – and we’ve adapted that across with the sweet potatoes,” he said.
Peter, whose wife Suellen gave birth to their first child Estelle in late March, said his focus was now on keeping the farm business strong for generations to come.
“My parents might not have envisaged that we’d get to this scale, and locally people have seen us grow very quickly and that might scare some of our competitors,” he said.
“But we felt we had to have some scale, some financial capability, to have the quality assurance systems in place and the ability to have a facility that’s reasonably modern to drive the business forward over the next generation.
At 35 years of age, Peter is still well below the average age of 56 for farmers in Australia but said farming had always been his dream job.
“It’s an exciting and challenging business to be in and around. It’s always changing and there are just so many elements – you never sit down and feel like you’ve mastered it,” he said.
“You get given a fresh dose of humility every day to just keep you well-grounded and it encourages good, dynamic business thinking.”
“Because of the difficulties of doing it perfectly every time, it is always a thrill when you see your fresh produce going off to feed people, to feed families. No matter what we’re harvesting – sweet potatoes, watermelons or sugar cane – it’s a real buzz to know we’ve done it again.”
Peter Greensill was featured in the August 2017 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.
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By Susie Cunningham