‘Perhaps I should stay on until the age of 84’

When I was 21 years old, my dad said he wanted to talk to me. He said he wanted to stop with the nursery (he was a tomato grower). I was the only son, so the whole lot was for me, he said. I couldn’t see myself take over his business, though.

Firstly, because he’d always told me never to become a grower. He himself had been taken out of school at the age of 11 to work in the nursery, which he continued to do for the rest of his life with a certain degree of reluctance. And secondly, because I wanted to go abroad. So, the nursery was sold, and my dad retired at the age of 51. The end of a 40-year working life. And I packed my bags for Kenya.

But now, 50 years later, I’m facing a similar problem. Who’s going to be my successor? Who can take Timaflor to the next level? I don’t want to sell the business and I don’t want to retire just yet, but I do want to spend as much time as possible with my grandchildren.

And I’d like to visit all the places on my bucket list, assuming that the coronavirus will be gone in a year or so.

Greenhouse work has changed quite a bit over the years. Especially in Kenya. Green fingers are no longer the main requirement; it’s all about management these days. My goal is to keep things as clear and simple as possible, which makes us unique within the sector.

Nine out of ten growers do the opposite: they make things as complicated as possible. They equip their greenhouses and warehouses with all sorts of bells and whistles and think that the more varieties they grow, the better. In my early years, I grew 100 ha of carnations and 2 ha of statice and I divided my time almost equally between the two crops. I still believe in doing one thing and doing that well. Keep it simple.

Of course, I’ve seen many successions over the years, and they’re hardly ever without any problems. The most obvious construction is from father to son. The ideal for many growers. But personally, I believe that that’s the most complicated solution, because it can be hard to separate the business relationship from the personal relationship.

There are no easy solutions when it comes to succession. Perhaps I should do the same as my grandfather and stay on until the age of 84. I’ve seen it happen in many companies, the older generation staying on. Many entrepreneurs simply love the work so much, they don’t want to give it up. And as long as you don’t get in the way, why would you?

Nobody can take your 50 years of experience away from you, and it can help the next generation not to make the same mistakes all over again. So, in my opinion, it’s about mixing it up and not overdoing it, and most of all, enjoying life in the broadest sense.

Simon van der Burg

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