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Is it just a game… or is it serious?

PUBLISHED: 09:50 01 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:50 01 October 2015

Strutt & Parker logo

Strutt & Parker logo


Land management takes to the field


With the Rugby World Cup in full swing and pride in (some!) of the Home Nations running high, one of my male colleagues had a poetic moment in a “quieter” match, and wrote a piece on the surprise he felt in how many similarities there are between a game of rugby and traditional rural estate management.

Now it’s time to lay my cards on the table – I am half Welsh. And half English. I get double the celebrations in the good times, and double the pain if things don’t go according to plan. I have never played the game (I have no upper body strength!) but I’ve watched one or two…. and I can see exactly the points he is making. Let’s elaborate.

Estate management isn’t simply a process: it is a combination of teamwork, aims, objectives and goals. It has a strategy and just like all the best rugby teams, you cannot cut time spent in proper preparation - it’s absolutely crucial.

For rugby, there’s a manager steering the team, ably assisted by coaches; there are dedicated back-room staff and, if it’s necessary, specialists are brought in to make sure every eventuality is covered. The point is that everyone is working towards a pre-determined plan. Strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities have to be assessed – every angle worked out, every play predicted as far as possible - and only then can the game be planned. Once the match has started, the very unpredictability of the game means things change: the plan agreed at the outset might not be what is needed now. New threats might blindside you whilst opportunities are missed as the opposite wing streaks past you if you have not adapted to circumstance.

Managing estates is eerily similar: land agents, like the best players, have to be able to look at what’s in front, think on their feet, beware of play around them and change a game plan to act accordingly for the good of the team. There are the professionals with the long-term knowledge and the overview; the graduates with the enthusiasm, new ideas and thirst for learning; the specialists who bring expertise in particular areas such as planning and building surveying; and the “back-room” staff – the accounts team, the PA’s and secretaries who keep them all in order!

Rugby goalRugby goal

The top tier rugby teams’ can multi-task in the best sense: props who can float miss-passes to a hooker on the wing, or a centre who can do the dirty work on the floor. They do not pigeon hole themselves into just one role – and neither do we: it is a combined effort with all acting together, putting in the hard work with everyone ready to do the job that is needed at any point in time.

When an Estate works together with owners, tenants, staff, contractors and professionals in a joint effort driving forward, comparisons might be drawn to the great teams: the Lions or the Welsh squads – particularly in the Seventies - or the current All Blacks? With the elite rugby squads and dedicated teams of Estate and Management staff, utter solidarity and efficient communication is crucial. All players have to work together to make unstoppable progress up the park to the line.

Further comparisons away from great teamwork can of course be drawn. To quote the great Sean Fitzpatrick, “World Cups are won on solid defence”. This defence in the world of Estate and Land Management means the systems that are in place to back up the day-to-day work - all vitally important but not the headline act. These foundations are the mainstay on which to build great performance - they need to be solid, secure and unfailing. It’s about details. It’s about dedication.

You may, if you are a rugby aficionado, have your own analogies for this: perhaps penalty kicks are the solid “3 pointers” - a new letting or grant-aid opportunity – and putting them together gives a secure base on which to build. Tries are the culmination of long-term team effort - the successful outcome of the pre-planned moves, of a well thought out strategy and the real winners in terms of securing the estates’ objectives. What of the exciting break-away try - the game changer? These are the “once in a generation” opportunities perhaps - the solar farms, AD plants or development land. And the conversions… a welcome bonus! They can turn a good result into a great result – much like SFP or Stewardship payments on top of farming returns.

Sunlight streaking through foggy trees on an autumn morningSunlight streaking through foggy trees on an autumn morning

The match schedule itself probably gives the best comparison of all: preparation in advance; enthusiasm at the outset; sustained effort through the first half; half time giving a chance to reflect, take stock revise strategy and build enthusiasm; a reinvigorated second half and looking to end with the result you have all strived for.

There is but one stand-out difference: Strutt and Parker’s managed Estates don’t need extra time.

Strutt & Parker, 37 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS 01244 354855

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