Magazine article Management Today

Better Going at Goodwood: The Landed Gentry Are Much Envied, but It's Not Easy to Be to the Manor Born

Magazine article Management Today

Better Going at Goodwood: The Landed Gentry Are Much Envied, but It's Not Easy to Be to the Manor Born

Article excerpt


In 1799, Charles, third Duke of Richmond and Lennox, duc d'Aubigny, Earl of March, Darnley and Kinrara, Baron Settrington and Torbolton, settled at his desk, opened a calfbound ledger entitled |Money Matters', and glumly headed one page |Statement For Settling My Debts'. In 1991, Charles, tenth of all the above (plus fourth of another dukedom - Gordon - acquired along the way) sits at his desk with the aforementioned ledger, underlines the heading with his finger, pulls a face and says, |Plus ca change.'

It seems an unlikely claim for a man sitting in an unarguably stately home, replete with Van Dycks and Canaletti, set in 12,000 acres of Sussex and with his very own racecourse (Goodwood) just visible on the brow of his very own hill. But |Money Matters' backs up the story. The present duke flips happily through the pages, jabs at another headed |Assets not producing an income', and smiles meaningfully. Included in its column of figures are the house, the paintings, the acres and the racecourse.

It is, in brief, the story of England's landed aristocracy. |We're rich,' says the Duke of Richmond. |but we haven't got any money. I'm quite open about the family portfolio. Roughly speaking, 70% of our assets [independently estimated at 45 million [pounds]] are held in land, another 29% or so in pictures et cetera, but only about 1% in stock exchange securities. If you looked at our return on capital employed, you'd leave Goodwood at once.'

The woefulness of this tale is all the more apparent to the present incumbent of Goodwood for his being, unusually in ducal circles, both an experienced corporate chartered accountant (five years in Courtauld's financial controllers department) and a Companion of the British Institute of Management. This particular inheritance has left the duke sounding uncannily like a good, old-fashioned entrepreneur. At one memorable meeting of the Historic Houses Association, for example, he caused something of a frisson among his peers by announcing that in his view, |more aristocrats must become businessmen'.

Not unnaturally, Goodwood, too, has come to bear more than a passing resemblance to a mid-sized land and leisure plc since the present duke took over the estate's running in 1969. (He succeeded his father, himself an ex-Bentley's apprentice, in 1989.) With a turnover in the region of 9 million [Pounds] in the last financial year, Goodwood is now divided into four separate specialist holding companies - Goodwood Estates Company Ltd (owning the estate, house and other property), Goodwood Racecourse Ltd, Goodwood Home Farm, and Terrena Ltd (operating the estate's aerodrome and once-famous racing circuit). This surprising plc-ishness appears in other guises. Board members of Goodwood's four firms (two of which - Terrena and Goodwood Racecourse - also include non-executive directors) refer to His Grace not as His Grace but as |the Chairman', all eight full-time directors and general managers also participating in a quarterly decision-making group known as the |policy forum'.

On another level, however, Goodwood's business vocabulary is most distinctly unlike that of the average plc. |Paternalism has become something of a nasty word,' says the Duke of Richmond, |but well, one does have some sort of sense of commitment to the people on the estate and even, whether they like it or not, to... ah... [makes hugging movements with his arms] the local community as a whole'. Aeschylus would surely have fainted by this time. Here is Charles Gordon Lennox, 61, plutocrat, talking turnovers; here is the 10th Duke of Richmond and Gordon, aristocrat, talking feudal duty. This paradoxical duke/chairman's paradoxical corporate brief is to maintain the status quo of history, an ambition he can achieve only by instituting change. Given that a large part of Goodwood's inheritance is inherently unprofitable, it is by no means an easy balancing-act to maintain. …

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