The next generation - the future of land ownership

Sarah Wells-Gaston speaks to CLA members Alexander, Viscount Newport, and Joe Evans about their experiences of taking on the family mantle
Bradford Estates 2.jpg
The approximately 12,000 acres that make up the Bradford Estates’ portfolio include 1,235 acres of woodland and 3,600 acres of agricultural land

The Bradford family’s connection with Weston-under-Lizard can be traced back to 1066. Today, Bradford Estates is responsible for around 12,000 acres of land on the Shropshire and Staffordshire borders.

Alexander, Viscount Newport – the future 8th Earl of Bradford - took over as managing director in 2019. While he knew that managing the estates was part of his future, he believes ‘real life’ experience is the key to success. Alexander studied classics at King’s College London before completing a masters degree in commercial real estate and embarking on a career in UK real estate investment and development. Having spent nearly 20 years building a portfolio of skills and experience, he feels equipped for the task at hand.

For me, gaining experience elsewhere was invaluable, and I think it’s important for the next generation of estate managers and landowners to develop a career outside of their inheritance

Alexander, Viscount Newport

Alexander explains. “It is an opportunity to develop the commercial acumen and the people management skills needed – they are the two most important things anyone can get out of a career before coming home.”

Progressive vision

With a 100-year plan for Bradford Estates focusing on a sustainable legacy, Alexander wants to be more than just a custodian of the land and is taking a hands-on approach. “The direction I want to take the business is towards being a modern investment company,” he says. “My training as an investment professional has helped me assess our portfolio and what it comprises and create an individual strategy for each part of it.”

“I don’t pretend to be an expert in every area – there are some where I am learning as I go along – but by taking this approach, we can pursue a commercial strategy for each part of the business. Having top quality in-house managers or consultants to help guide you through the transition is going to be key.”

An entrepreneurial approach

Bradford Estates will be the host venue for the CLA’s Next Generation Conference this spring, and Alexander is keen to share his experience to equip future landowners and estate managers with strategies to ensure they can thrive. Investment is one area that he believes will be a challenge for the next generation, and he is keen to encourage an entrepreneurial approach.

“People will need to be more entrepreneurial in taking agricultural and rural-based enterprises forward,” he explains. “We are in an environment of reducing government subsidy support and where interest rates have been higher than we have seen for the last 15 years. It’s a challenge when a lot of rural assets are quite low yielding. Raising capital to carry out projects is going to be a lot more expensive. So, it’s going to be even more important for the next generation to get a feel for what can be achieved with judicious investment, and it highlights the importance of seeing your estate as a portfolio of different assets and opportunities.”

He believes networking is a key piece of the puzzle for those taking the reins from family members. “I’ve gained a lot personally from being involved in next generation events and also from informal events held locally. It’s important to get to know other people in the same position and to have a peer group to call on for support; it’s a vital forum for an open and honest exchange of ideas.”

New beginnings

Herefordshire crumplebury
Crumplebury, an events venue on the Whitbourne Estate

The 1,500-acre Whitbourne Estate has been in the Evans family since the mid 1800s and is managed by Joe Evans, Chair of the CLA Environment Committee. Nestled in the Herefordshire countryside, it was run by Joe’s father Bill and his wife Julia for more than 30 years, before Joe returned from a career abroad as a commercial banker to take the helm.

“It was a credit to my parents that they never set any expectations that running the estate was my destiny,” says Joe. “I was at a point in my career when I was thinking whether I wanted to carry on for the rest of my life or do something else. It was a happy confluence of events that my father decided it was time to reduce his role on the estate, and I didn’t want to be in banking forever. We had a memorable conversation about succession on a beach in the Philippines, and the decision was made.”

Joe believes his experience away from the estate was invaluable and that the next generation can gain vast amounts of knowledge by having a career first.

I would strongly advocate anyone thinking about coming home to run their family business to have another life beforehand. The technical experience I gained meant I learnt how businesses were run. The world is small and you can experience a lot of things, which provides more breadth when it comes to decision making. It also pushed me to be more ambitious and not to be limited by what had happened before

Joe Evans

Learning curves

In terms of advice Joe would give to his younger self, he says it is “important to be mindful of the ripples you can make when you are in a rural community. The community impact of change is something that has massively surprised me, so being mindful of the impact your decisions could have on the immediate community, and being sensitive to that, is important.”

Joe also emphasises the importance of understanding the end goals. “My father decided to split ownership of the estate,” he says. “For those in a similar situation, my advice is to formalise a governance model and at least once a year get everybody together to review what the overarching objectives are. For my generation, it’s about playing our part in combatting the climate change emergency and adding value to the estate. It’s important to be able to understand the stakeholders in the enterprise, and use this to create consistency around decision making.”

Like Alexander, Joe is keen to stress the importance of networking with your peers and having access to quality advice. He says: “Whatever the challenges being faced, it’s important that the next generation has access to good quality advice. As a way of building a community of peers, quite early on I decided to join the CLA. Having the opportunity to network with others in the same position and being able to bounce ideas around is vitally important.”

CLA Next Generation Annual Conference and Dinner