FEATURE1 January 2012

My double life – Crispin Beale

Features

Researchers reveal how their out-of-hours pursuits affect the day job. This month Crispin Beale, chief executive of Chime Insight and Engagement, talks about his other life as a farmer.

Tell us about your day job
I’ve been with Chime for about three years and I’m now chief executive of CIE (Chime Insight and Engagement), which includes about half a dozen companies. I still personally manage a couple of large accounts because I love to
stay hands-on and be involved. Before that I spent about 15 years on the clientside with Dixons, BT and the Post Office.

Tell us about your other life
I’m lucky enough to live on and run a 120-acre farm in Kent, right at the top of the North Downs. We took it over six years ago from a farmer who was retiring. We have a couple of hundred sheep, a dozen Andalusian horses, and about half the farm is given over to hay and haylage.

“I’ve planted thousands of trees and hedge plants so there’s room for badgers and voles and staots to move around, and we’ve put up no end of bat boxes and owl boxes”

It just about breaks even, but we manage it sensitively for wildlife. I’ve been involved with conservation charities for 25 or 30 years and this is my own little conservation project. I’ve planted thousands of trees and hedge plants so there’s room for badgers and voles and stoats to move around, and we’ve put up no end of bat boxes and owl boxes. We could make more money if we produced more hay, but we take it off early to let the local community use the fields for a horse show. It’s also been used for training police dogs, and we have the village fireworks and bonfire up there every year.

We’ve got three young kids and they love it. There’s nothing like seeing their excitement. But it’s not just the kids to be honest – I never get bored of seeing the lambs jump around. Those moments are priceless.

How do you fit your two lives around each other?
I spend a lot of time working out of Facts International who are based in Ashford, about 15 minutes from the farm. And now with the high-speed rail link I can be in London in 35 minutes. Before that it was a bit of a struggle, but I do now occasionally get some sleep.

Are you ever tempted to become a full-time farmer?
When you get to see a foal being born or a barn owl swooping down, I am tempted – who wouldn’t be? But I’ve got to pay a mortgage and put food on the table as well, and a farm of this scale these days is never going to make enough money to sustain a big family, which is a shame. It’s large enough to mean you need all the kit to manage it but not big enough to be truly commercial, and I’m not prepared to go pouring tons of fertiliser and intensively manage it in such a way as to destroy the environment. So even if I didn’t love the day job, I’d still need another job.

Does farming teach you anything that you can apply to research?
Both require a huge amount of patience and the need to act quickly. When you’ve got to get the harvest in, everything has to stop – you’ve got to do it. This year we were out at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning, flinging hundreds of bales of hay on to trailers, because it was going to rain the next day and we had to get the hay in or it would be ruined. Just like when a client needs something, you have to get it to them. If they’ve got a board meeting the next day and need some information to make a decision, you move heaven and earth to do it.

Farming also teaches you to think through a problem first. When we first arrived, I found some sheep had escaped and I was charging around like a mad thing to get them back in. Whereas now I know if I’d just put some food into a bucket and shaken it around a bit, they’d have followed me.

The number of times I’ve wandered around with the dogs after work and thought about a work project – it really helps. It’s great to have that time to reflect in a calm environment.

What do your colleagues say when you tell them about your farming life?
People want to come out and have a go. They ask if they can go driving on one of the tractors. When I worked at the Post Office we had an It’s a Knockout-style day at the farm, and people really enjoyed that.

What do your farming friends say when you tell them you’re a researcher?
People are interested, and surprised sometimes that I manage to do both. But more and more people in the farming community run other businesses now, particularly on small-scale farms.

If you had to give up one of your two lives, which would it be?
I wouldn’t give up either. It gives me a very healthy work-life balance.

If you lead an exciting double life, email robertb@researchmagazine.co.uk

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