9 March 2022

Generation Now - Episode Four: Ridgeview owners Tamara and Simon Roberts on pioneering English Sparkling Wine

Katherine talks to brother and sister team Tamara and Simon Roberts from Ridgeview - one of the leading brands of English sparkling wine.

They’re joined by Idina Glyn, Senior Associate in the Rural Land & Business team at Forsters.

To continue the conversation on social media, use #ForstersGenNow.

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Take 5 with Idina Glyn

In this five minute interview Idina provides an honest review of talking to Tamara and Simon Roberts, as well as sharing her own career journey. What surprised her the most, how does she work with next-gen clients and what is the biggest challenge for Gen Y?

What is your key takeaway from the episode?

How important it is for family businesses to work as a commercial team, with clear business and succession plans. Often, family business are driven by a single person, and that one person attempts to take on responsibility for every role. Ridgeview is unusual in that it is now run by four of the current generation, each with their own roles and responsibilities and obvious respect for the others' spheres expertise. It struck me that Tamara is really primus inter pares as CEO and is happy to defer completely to Simon on the viticulture. This seems to have been reflected in how their decision making processes have evolved over time, and how Simon feels that the business retains the agility and responsiveness of a small family business, despite its size, success and four family members at management level.

It will be interesting to see how the board and decision making changes over the coming decades, particularly in light of the pertinent point Tamara made about the gaps between generations increasing as people have children older. They have clearly prioritised building a trusted team around them and are giving thought to succession plans at the right time – now – rather than leaving it until they decide to retire. Tamara's five year plan is a classic example of something that many businesses have, but not many families with businesses have. It can be easy to overlook these commercial tools when running a family business. I find it rare that families running businesses – often farms and estates – can step back to say "well done, look what we have achieved; here's what's next" by reference to a clear plan, as the Roberts family can for Ridgeview, but to me, that seems integral to their success.

What surprised you the most?

The ability to retain a strong brand and culture while using a range of growing versus production models. It is easy to think of English wine as grown on a single vineyard and produced on site. While that may be the case for some, many brands use grapes from their own vineyards, other vineyards, or a mix of both. Equally, producers don't always bottle under their own label; many act as contract producers for vineyards looking to produce under their own brand name. What surprised me was not only the flexibility the Ridgeview team has in their model, using grapes from a variety of sources and bottling for their own and other brands, but the way they were able to tie this together – Simon and Tamara talked about "the Ridgeview family" and "partner growers". I felt that there was a strong sense of a family business even though Ridgeview are one of the larger and more commercial wineries in the UK.

How do you work with next-gen clients?

My clients are a mixture of old and new money, cash rich and cash poor, but they all share one thing: significant UK property portfolios, usually with a rural or central London estate. Most of my clients have children, often my age, that they wish to take on their estates and businesses. The partners here are often of the parents' generation. My role is often to act as a point of contact for the next generation and help them understand the business and trust structures.

What advice would you provide to next-gen clients?

  • Try to build your own career before getting more involved in the family business. It can be difficult to view family business matters with commercial objectivity. The more experience you have pursuing your own career, the more objectivity you can bring to the table.
  • Building long term plans with your parents is incredibly valuable for those lucky enough to have the opportunity to do so. Listening to them, it was clear to see that the Ridgeview team's five year plan helped Tamara and Simon Roberts when their father Mike passed away.
  • When you do get involved in the business, develop a core team of advisers that you trust over time. Both continuity and trust are important – there's a balance to be struck between building your own team and not changing everything overnight.

Tell us a bit about your career journey

I always planned to go to the Bar, perhaps via time as a solicitor in the City first. It took me all of two hours at a US law firm open day to realise I wasn't going to be a City lawyer. A friend suggested I speak to a West End law firm before I wrote off law completely, and I managed to get a place on the Forsters open day. On a tour of the Mayfair office, someone apologised for wellies and a border terrier in one of the rooms – apparently the team had been on a site visit. I instantly felt at home, and it helped hugely that I managed to win a bottle of champagne on the day – I'm easily won over by champagne, dogs and wellies! I joined the vacation scheme the following summer, then luckily got a training contract.

When I was training at Forsters, it made so much sense to me that the Landed Estates team sat within Private Client. I loved the mix of "old school" land law and transactional work alongside trusts, tax and succession planning, and not to mention working on some of the most beautiful houses, farms and estates in the country. It struck me that the clients needed lawyers who could give both property and trust and tax advice, so I asked Forsters for the opportunity to work in both disciplines – in essence, to grow up bilingual in property and private client work. The partners were incredibly supportive and flexible, and today, as a Senior Associate, I am able to focus on complex property transactions and advisory work for estates and clients with large property portfolios as a result. Fortunately, our Rural Land and Business team has gone from strength to strength, and I hope to be a part of it for many years to come.

What is the biggest challenge for gen y?

Keeping up with the new technology. The legal industry is already being shaped enormously by AI and we are using more and more technology in landlord and tenant work. I can only see this expanding, and I think our generation will see a fundamental shift in a solicitor's role in conveyancing and leasehold work. The generation below us will be able to learn this from the start, whereas we will have to adapt. It is exciting and a real opportunity to shape our profession, but it's going to be a challenge!

What is your millennial stereotype pet peeve?

That we expect everything to be handed to us on a plate and give up or swap jobs when we don't get our own way!

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Generation Now - Disrupting Perceptions: Episode 5

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