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World’s leading business experts to help boost family business growth in rural Devon and Somerset

The Family Business Growth Programme, which has been instigated by the family-owned land management business Clinton Devon Estates, will provide other family businesses working in agriculture and rural enterprises with access to over 25 years of family business research and learning from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne.  

The programme, which is part funded by the Rural Growth Network – a government initiative designed to boost Devon and Somerset’s rural economy by £40 million – will begin this spring with a two day master class at the IMD, ranked third in the world’s top business schools by the Financial Times.

The course will be led by Professor of Family Business Joachim Schwass and Professor of Organisational Behaviour Ben Bryant and will be attended by a small group of legal, financial and land management professionals who will pay £2000 each for a place on the course. The intention is for the professional advisors to use the expertise to help provide a boost to the rural economy in these difficult times. 

If this year’s Devon and Somerset pilot is successful, it is anticipated that the programme will be rolled-out nationally in 2014.

John Varley, Estates Director for Clinton Devon Estates explained: “Clinton Devon Estates is a long-established family business, dating back 700 years, which means that we have experienced many of the pitfalls and opportunities that are typical of a family businesses.”

Mr Varley added: “In helping to develop the Family Business Growth Programme we hope to provide large numbers of family businesses with the knowledge and expertise to help secure their future - because they hold the key to delivering the platform for growth that is needed to secure a vibrant economic future for Devon and Somerset.”

“We have 20 places for local professional firms and also a few for not for profit business advice organisations.  10 places have already been allocated and we are aiming to allocate the remainder over the next two weeks.”

The Family Business Growth Programme will be supported by Dr Matt Lobley, Co-Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter. Dr Lobley, an expert in rural family business, especially farming family succession, will be responsible for programme monitoring and evaluation.  Dr Lobley said: “Britain is a nation of family businesses and here in Devon and Somerset they really are the backbone of the rural economy. Many have been passed down over a number of generations and are extremely important to their rural communities.

“The programme evaluation will involve visiting the family businesses which have been advised by the course participants, to see whether the advice they received has had a positive impact, for instance if they have implemented a family constitution and succession plan. At the end of the programme we will make recommendations on how the course can be rolled-out nationally,” added Dr Lobley.

Three West Country firms have already booked places on the course and other companies are being invited to apply for a limited number of places on this year’s programme. 

Paul Giessler, Head of Business Services from accountancy firm Francis Clark said: “Family business and rural business are at the core of what we do in terms of financial and business support and especially succession planning. We hope this programme will give us a better insight into the family business dynamic and provide us with the tools to ensure that our family businesses can produce strong balance sheets generation after generation.”   

Bruce Brooker, Commercial Director at the Devon and Somerset legal practice Everys said: “A large part of our client base are family businesses and, in many cases, we support second and third generations who have a need to be very much more commercially focused than their parents and grandparents were. The Family Business Growth Programme will ensure that we can provide these families and other family businesses with world class advice.”

Smiths Gore are land agents and rural surveyors who work with a wide range of family businesses, from small local enterprises to large landed family estates. Taunton-based James Dennis said: “Understanding the dynamic of a family business is the key to setting goals for its consolidation and growth. Every family business has different objectives and this course, along with hearing the experiences of others, will help us to further develop our approach and understanding.”

For further information on the Family Business Growth Programme, contact Carla Fanning  on 01395 441142 or email



  • For further information or interviews relating to this news release please contact Annette Richman at KOR Communications on 01392 466733    
  • For further information on the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, visit

About Clinton Devon Estates

Clinton Devon Estates is involved in farming, sustainable forestry and timber products, deer management and residential property. It has a portfolio of commercial property across the South West and provides one of the region’s best equipped equestrian event venues at Bicton. It also owns commons at Woodbury which form the major part of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).  

Clinton Devon Estates has been awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category of Sustainable Development in 2005 and again in 2010, reflecting its commitment to conservation management through Countryside Stewardship Schemes and privately funded Estate led environmental initiatives.

The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths are managed by the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, a charity set up by Clinton Devon Estates to promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of the Pebblebed Heaths and the Otter Estuary for the benefit of future generations.

The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths are located in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and have both UK and European designations, including a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). 

For more information please visit