Rob Sands will have influenced many readers of Farmanco Facts, either directly as clients or indirectly through his formal roles within the Farmanco Group, his previous industry roles as Chairman of the Rural Business Development Corporation (RBDC), and the AAAC (WA).
Rob is enthusiastic about agriculture and about business and has a wide field of interests that come together through his consulting advice. Thirty years is a great milestone and a useful time to reflect on his consulting career, so far. Congratulations Rob, from team Farmanco!
Trish from our Albury (NSW) office asked Rob some reflective questions.
Well done, Rob! You’re officially the 'old man' of Farmanco, having reached 30 years and being the longest serving person in the company. Did that sneak up on you?
It certainly has. I am always surprised when I look around and my children are adults making their own way in life, which forces me to admit that I am getting older.
I am now dealing with the next generation in a number of my client businesses, which will keep me on my toes.
You're a blow-in from Queensland, yes? Let us into the story of how you settled into WA.
It is not an unusual story. Boy meets girl from a different state. Girl lets boy know that they will be returning to her state to be close to her family. Boy agrees.
Did you choose Farm Management Consulting as a career, or did it choose you?
Good question and difficult to know what came first.
Having grown up on an irrigation farm in Central Queensland, which was scrub when we arrived, all development was done on the smell of an oily rag. I became acutely aware of how important it was to forward plan and that getting that plan well implemented could mean the difference between success and failure. That did influence me to choose a course at Uni with a combination of science and management.
Once I started my career as a consultant, I have never thought I would be happier doing something else. So, in that way, the consulting gig chose me, or it certainly suits me.
As a Consultant to Farm Businesses, is there a key message you'd like to share?
My key message as a consultant is that getting the balance and timing right is important.
I think of myself in a number of roles to all the members in a family business. These include change agent, educator, motivator, risk assessor, trusted adviser, counsellor, researcher, futurist, modeller, auditor, realist, facilitator and occasionally, the umpire. This keeps the role pretty interesting as you never know which hat you may need to wear.
What do you see as the benefits to Farm Business engaging with a Management Consultant?
To be relevant, we need to be adding value to a business, and management consultants are in a great position to add a lot of value.
Sometimes that value is not as obvious as analysing business performance to help identify cost savings or assisting the owner to make better investment decisions. Sometimes it is boosting a client’s confidence through affirmation of their skills and abilities. Sometimes, encouraging them to make a difficult or risky decision can be life changing for that client and their business.
Looking forward to the future of farming in Australia, is there anything in particular you're excited about?
I am excited about what a lot of the innovative technology that has been (or is being) developed can do to make farming in Australia more profitable, better for the environment, and better for the people who operate those farms.
Precision Ag, Internet of Things, on the go sampling, remote sensing, autonomous machinery, online business analysis platforms, and the list goes on. I can see myself continuing to be excited about the future of farming until everybody around me tells me I am not making sense. At that point, I will retire gracefully, to pursue all those things I haven’t had time to do.
You aren't only a Consultant with Farmanco. You're also busy driving the growth of our Benchmarking Service via the new company, Aglytica. Tell us about that.
I have always liked to be involved with projects that provide better solutions to assist farm businesses be more sustainably profitable, while achieving the objectives of the farming families who run those businesses.
I use benchmarking data to help inform and challenge my clients on a daily basis. Giving greater access to these tools and allowing clients do their own research will be a big step forward from our current model.
I also want to grow the number of clients using the benchmarking platform so that we have a richer source of data to look for trends and to challenge the status quo.
I am excited to be making it easier to capture that data from the machines themselves such as with My John Deere, or directly from financial packages such as Xero, or from paddock recording platforms like Agworld.
Removing the painful task of double entry for clients and increasing the depth of that data will be rewarding.
And to finish — is there a particular highlight of your 30 years with Farmanco that stands out?
It is difficult to rank highlights because they are all so different and I will change my mind next week.
I have always enjoyed when the entire Farmanco Team gets together to celebrate. I value those moments and it is disappointing that COVID-19 has made that difficult in the last couple of years. I am proud to be a part of a team of people who value and care for each other.
I love seeing businesses grow and succeed, the people within those businesses enthusiastically embracing the challenges of farming, while having strong and lasting relationships within those family groups.
I feel privileged to have dealt with a lot of innovative clients who are not afraid to push the envelope and who will fund and implement new systems of farming that I have recommended for their business. Some of them take the bit between their teeth and run so hard that I start to doubt whether I should have been so enthusiastic when selling the idea to them in the first place.
And can I just say that I look forward to another 20 years of consulting — if my brain doesn’t fail me in the meantime.