"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
The title of this blog is relevant to our adventure in a number of ways; The first being that The Wizard of Oz was our eldest daughter's favourite movie while she was growing up. So throughout the first 6 years of her life we watched that movie so much that we wore out the video, wrecked the first DVD and had to buy another copy!
The second is that it describes the feeling I had when we first entered our newly acquired business. Not only were we non-locals who had invested in the tight-knit community of American River...but we were from the white collar world of IT, entering the blue collar world of farming! Leaving an industry where we were known and our reputations spoke for themselves, and moving to an isolated business environment where we were nobodies.
I will never forget the first day my IT Nerd, who was morphing into an Oyster Farmer, took me to the farm - the acquisition had been settled after Due Diligence and the adventure was about to begin.
I was excited to meet the team that had transferred with the business and to get involved in the town where our business was located. New people, new goals, new skills to learn, new challenges, new ideas and a new story to tell, that is what this adventure meant to me.
We walked through the yard which housed equipment of all shapes and sizes with a purpose that I was yet to learn. The smells...seaweed, salt and wet shells, all hitting me like a slap in the face as I entered the shed. The noises...shells against metal, metal against metal, it was loud!
There were about four staff working in the shed, none of whom made eye contact with us as we entered which I thought was odd then. Thinking back now they probably thought we were tourists or people off the street wanting to buy oysters, something I now know is an annoying interruption when busy grading oysters. However, at the time I couldn't help but feel like we weren't really welcome. Eventually we were met by the Farm Manager and taken to his office. I disappointed that I wasn't introduced to any of the staff, however, my IT nerd may have already met them on his previous visits during Due Diligence.
There is one office in the oyster shed and the farm manager uses it. Obviously previous owners who resided off-island didn't spend much time working at the farm. If we were to sell our farm to someone else now, I would be suggesting we meet in the crib room (staff room) however, we were sat on the visitors side of the desk across from the farm manager who - in my opinion - was making it clear, in no uncertain terms, who was in charge.
That first meeting was to discuss who would be doing what moving forward. I was to help setup the administrative systems. The financial system that was handed over was in the form of two pages; a list of suppliers used and a list of customers. I would be taking on the general administration support, implementing a financial system that would enable us to grow the business, taking over payroll, and the maintenance of the SA Shellfish Quality Assurance Program for food safety. These were all areas that I had ample experience in from my previous jobs, but aside from the familiarity of these responsibilities everything else was so foreign. The way staff interacted was different. The terminology was different. The level of communication was very different. I guess the biggest issue I had was that I felt like an intruder in a business that I owned, and this was confronting. We came along as outsiders and left behind our professional profiles on the mainland, no-one knew or cared really of what our skills and abilities were or what we had achieved in our previous ventures. We were nobodies. Leaving an industry where you are well known and have virtually 'grown up' in and taking on a challenge with no known credibility or history was strange and unsettling.
It's funny now looking back on that first day at the farm, because after 10 years, I love the smell of the sea at the shed and love the activity that goes along with grading and packing sales stock. I love walking into our farm and feeling at home with our story.