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

UK: Better going at Goodwood. (3 of 3) - This astute development of the estate's existing triumvirate - racecourse, aerodrome and house - has helped both to spread Goodwood's marketability in terms of corporate appeal and to increase the number of days a

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

This astute development of the estate's existing triumvirate - racecourse, aerodrome and house - has helped both to spread Goodwood's marketability in terms of corporate appeal and to increase the number of days annually when it can contribute to the ducal exchequer (the house alone played host to some 200 functions last year), helping to iron out problems of seasonality. Its other problem as a venue for corporate beanfeasting is one of location. Although the Sussex coast is handily placed for day trips from London and the South-east, longer corporate visits, or those from further afield, have made less sense.

Realising in addition that watering the corporate client is at least as profitable as entertaining him, Goodwood has recently converted what was the Richmond Arms pub into the 90-bedroomed Goodwood Park Hotel, Golf and Country Club (in a 30/70 joint venture with Country Club Hotels Ltd), replete with jacuzzis, conference facilities and ducally titled restaurants. Manager Douglas Goodall reports roughly one third of the hotel's custom coming from the corporate market, everything from banks to "national oil companies" taking advantage of proximity to Goodwood House's ballroom - now the haunt of marketing men rather than Romanoffs - to save executive time.

Although Goodall admits that they have been "hit by the recession", his business/leisure mix has assured a respectable 65% average through recent dark days. "I like to think it was all a conscious decision," says the duke. "In any case, the hotel has already begun to bring everything together."

As with all of its other transformations, these latest conversions demonstrate the double imperatives at work in making Goodwood run as a going concern: that ventures should be profitable, but that profit making should not interrupt the traditional mores of a great estate.

Reconciling this paradox is not always possible. John Robinson, manager of Goodwood's 2,800-acre home farm, groans when asked about the impact of the European Community's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In spite of a reduction in manning levels from 28 in 1981 to nine in 1991, conversion to new crops such as oilseed rape, and heavy capital investment in machinery, EC quota systems have made the prospect of profitable farming at Goodwood unlikely. ("I've been instructed not to talk about profits," says Robinson, darkly, "so I take that to mean I'm not allowed to talk about losses either.") Given this, might it not make sense to wind down the home farm? "Oh, Lord, no," says the chairman. "Goodwood without some element of farming would be simply unimaginable."

"A journalist once asked me what I'd like to be remembered for," laughs the Duke of Richmond. "First time I'd been asked to write my own obituary. Anyway, I said 'For having maintained the unity and continuity of Goodwood'." It is not as enviable a task as it might sound. Other owners of stately homes have opted for safari parks as a means of survival, and for these, says the duke (not entirely convincingly), he feels "the greatest respect". His own balancing of historic noblesse oblige with the altogether less noble demands of the present has been more discreet, if not more profitable. Half a dozen other houses have now followed Goodwood's lead, and the duke has found himself something of an unofficial management consultant to the aristocracy.

Among recent glimmers on Goodwood's financial horizon has been the discovery of oil by Kelt Energy just north of the racecourse. Kelt's well at present produces 200 barrels a day, but it is difficult to imagine anything larger fitting in with Goodwood's policy of "evolution, not revolution", or its chairman swapping strawberry leaves for a 10-gallon hat.

(Charles Darwent is a freelance writer.)

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