How important is the notion of independence when choosing what companies or industry bodies you do business with?
Certainly, when your dealings with a firm or body are to gain advice, independence is valuable concept. It's an appealing notion that you are being offered help and guidance free from any interest by the advising party. Or at least you want it to be clear that the advice you are receiving is partisan to some degree - which of course, you may be fully happy with.
What set me thinking about how important independent advice actually is, was a blog post I read at the end of last week by Tim Lodge, founder and director of Agrostis Sports Surface Consulting.
Tim was writing on his company's website, reflecting on his sadness that his former employer the Sports Turf Research Institute, "has seemingly abandoned its claim to be an independent consultancy."
Tim's concern is that the directors of STRI have chosen to form a turf construction company called Carrick Sports Construction Ltd which is to run alongside the institution.
Tim then proposes "Obviously, their consultants and agronomists will now be channelling design specifications towards this company which will consequently enjoy a huge advantage in competitive tendering situations (if tendering is allowed to take place at all)."
Whether that is 100% the case, one can certainly understand that that will now be the perception of STRI.
Tim continues, "This will be very much at the expense of all the other construction companies. The development surely casts doubt over the independence of STRI’s technical advice and their specifications in other areas.”
Tim says that when he joined STRI in 1989, "the pursuit of the science of sports turf for the good of the industry was very much the main objective of the organisation." He explains that, "RIPTA, the Register of Independent Professional Turfgrass Agronomists, was founded in 2002 with a membership that included many of STRI’s agronomists, including me. It was started largely to counter the growing number of so called ‘agronomists’ who were in fact technical sales representatives for companies supplying the sports turf industry.”
"I left STRI in 2005," Tim writes, "but remain in RIPTA to this day having held the position of Treasurer for some years now. In 2016, however, the STRI’s agronomists resigned from RIPTA en masse. It is clear now that the company could no longer satisfy the strict requirement among RIPTA members to be independent. In retrospect, this will have saved us the embarrassment of having to ask them to leave which we would have had to do in the light of the formation of CSC Ltd."
The conclusion Tim reaches is "Consultant independence is vital if our clients are to receive the highest standard of technical advice and information, entirely uninfluenced by our own financial dealings."
He believes the only reliable source now of this kind of sports turf advice is from members of RIPTA - which of course includes his own company.
When any advice is being sought for your business, it's vital to enter the conversation knowing what may be behind the scenes, influencing the guidance received. As long as this is clear, skilled turf professionals should be able to make an informed decision on what's best for their situation.