UK: Better going at Goodwood. (2 of 3)

UK: Better going at Goodwood. (2 of 3) - 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

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

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, aged 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 which 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.

The answer for the corporate-minded duke has been not simply to mimic corporations but to woo them. Side by side with the Glorious Goodwood of aristocratic privilege now lives a plutocratic Goodwood of company logos, video presentations and, when necessity dictates, go-karts. For Goodwood is no longer simply a noble house: it is, in the words of its marketing pack, "THE noble place to entertain".

Last year Sir William Chambers' peculiar three-sided house (intended as an octagon, until the third duke ran out of money) earned itself about £500,000 in "functions" - "A horrible word," sighs the duke - with a client list that has included such notable corporate names as Shell and BMW. The draw for these impeccable blue chips is not simply the blurred beauty of Goodwood's parkland and the grandeur of its Sevres (an incomparable collection), but its association with impeccably blue blood. "For over 200 years my family have played host to tsars and princes at Goodwood," the duke intones on Goodwood Ltd's marketing video. "Now it is available for entertainment on a more commercial basis."

A sterling example of Goodwood's aristoplutocratic approach is the estate's famous racecourse. As general manager Rod Fabricius notes, racecourse ownership is not the financial desirable that it may sound. Rules set in the late 1960s have fixed the levy paid by high street bookies to course-owners at somewhere under 1% of revenue. In 1988 only 11 British courses made a profit, eight if the levy was discounted. That Goodwood was one of these comes as something of a surprise, given its short racing season and rural situation. Fabricius will not say what percentage of his £5 million turnover was profit, but given loan repayments of over £1 million, prizes of £500,000 and a £40,000 net fall in sponsorship, it is likely to have been discreet. Nonetheless, that there was any profit at all was due in large part to ducal canniness.

"When the first new stand was built, there was some question as to what we should charge for boxes," recalls the duke. "The going rate was about £3,000, but I can read The Times as well as the next man, and could see what happened to prices in the weeks leading up to Ascot: up to £5,000, £10,000. So we decided to put the boxes out to tender - the first racecourse in the world to do so - and the figures came in about a third higher."

Corporate punters like Coutts and Farrer now pay up to £25,000 for front boxes in Goodwood's striking new Sussex Stand, generating an income that, Fabricius notes, allows the "true enthusiast" (as opposed to the "hooray Henrys") greater access as well - a point underlined by a rise in attendances of 2% against an industry-wide fall of 4%: profitability and tradition satisfied by a piece of corporate light-footedness.

All of this is part of a broader Goodwood strategy, aimed at both widening and deepening the estate's leisure net through expansion and integration of existing assets. In 1948 the ninth duke (popularly known as "Bentley Boy" Freddy March) converted an ex-RAF airstrip into the famed Goodwood motor circuit. Closed to racing in 1966, the strip's operating firm, Terrena, now uses the complex for a variety of aviation and automotive ventures, adding another profit-heavy £1.7 million to the estate's income.

As well as leasing space to air-based tenants (including a flying school, air ambulance service and the Civil Aviation Authority), Terrena runs its own well respected servicing and engineering outfit, and a lucrative corporate incentive programme which allows selected employees the chance to test their driving skills in high-performance motorcars. This last, in operation 300 days a year, is a usefully downmarket adjunct to the more exclusive charms of Canaletto and the private box, allowing Goodwood's new group marketing office (an unusual feature in the average stately home) to pitch for a larger slice of the corporate market - salesfolk go-karting even as sales directors listen to string quartets.

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