Five minutes with lead consultant Alex Caraffi
After graduating with a BSc (Hons) degree in Agriculture in 2008 Alex, from Somerset, returned to work for the company he had spent his placement with, Andersons Northern Farm Business Consultants. The 28-year-old now lives in Edinburgh.
What did you do before coming to Harper Adams?
I left school with limited agricultural experience and no university place due to being undecided on my future. I travelled to Australia where I worked on a 35,000 acre farm for the year during which time I applied to Harper Adams to further my knowledge and try to get a career in the agricultural industry.
Why did you choose to study at Harper Adams?
Harper Adams seemed to be a good mix – the diversity of people that you would find in a large university, while not being so big that it lost its atmosphere. The course also seemed to fit what I wanted to do the most - growing my knowledge of practical agriculture but with a business element.
Did the course make you more employable?
The placement year certainly had the biggest impact on my employability. I now work for the same company that employed me on my placement.
What sort of projects did you work on?
I completed my dissertation on hill farm profitability and impacts of the CAP Reform. I investigated the impacts of extensifying farming systems and whether that made them more profitable and the impacts of changing funding mechanisms from Europe. This and the projects from the farm business management modules were the most interesting aspects of my course as they offered an opportunity to see exactly what the issues and solutions might be in the ‘real world’.
Where did you spend your work placement?
Andersons Northern Farm Business Consultants. I was a trainee consultant and directly assisted the lead consultants with their day to day work. I got involved in a wide variety of jobs and situations. Lots of financial based work from budgeting and preparing financial reports to monitoring of budgets and written appraisals.
What were the best things about placement?
Truly being involved at the forefront of the industry and being able to experience the workings of a wide variety of business types and wide range of successful and unsuccessful businesses.
Do you think placement enhanced your career prospects?
It provided me with a hugely increased knowledge base for my final year at Harper Adams. It has also lead in the long run to a job and possibly a long lasting career.
Tell us about your career since graduating
I left Harper Adams and immediately went to work on an estate to gain more experience of a diversity of farming activity. Approximately six months after starting I left following a job offer from my placement employers to go back and work for them. I have been with Andersons Northern since February 2009 and am currently one of three lead consultants in our office. I have ambitions to become a director of the business, hopefully in the near future and beyond that I wish to be reasonably autonomous and continue to undertake genuine independent business consultancy making a difference to farming businesses.
What sort of tasks and responsibilities does it involve?
I have a portfolio of my own and shared clients who I look after on an ongoing basis. This ranges from estate management to managing contract farming, undertaking business appraisals, ongoing farm business management and monitoring. I can be responsible on one day for the preparation of a business plan for the proposal of lending for a client and on another I could be monitoring a businesses financial performance against a pre-prepared budget or visiting a new business to undertake an appraisal.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variety of the job keeps it interesting, but the most exciting aspect is business appraisals, seeing a new business, gaining an understanding of the physical and financial workings of it and then assessing options for the future and budgeting them and presenting them to the client who you hope will undertake change on the back of your advice and create a more profitable, sustainable business.
What skills/experience was your employer looking for?
Our work requires a reasonable level of understanding of the practical aspects of farming. We need to be able to look at a business and the financials of it and understand how and why it is doing well or not doing well and what aspects of that are manageable or can be solved. It is vitally important to be able to gain the trust of a client. It is important that we are personable and can interact easily with an estate owner or millionaire investor on one hand and a small farmer with financial difficulties on the other.
How did your qualification/ experiences at Harper Adams aid your career?
The placement year clearly helped, but also the ability to gain an understanding of a wide variety of farming systems and types as provided in the broad based modules throughout the first and second year. Also the ability to meet and spend time with people from all over the UK farming in many different ways on different scales and with differing success provided a huge amount of education.
Do you think being a graduate made a difference to your position and salary?
It would certainly have been more challenging to end up where I am today without a degree and particularly without a degree with a sandwich year. Despite what many think, consultancy is not the best paid job out there and if you were after the money there are better places to go with a degree where you are significantly boosted by your qualification.
What advice do you have for a student interested in doing a similar job?
Try to stay open minded and be open to learning all the time. The most important quality I have developed is the ability to learn and soak up information all the time, whether that is through conversations with friends, reading the press, searching out different research material about policy or business trends. The ability to analyse a business is vital and therefore concentrate in economics, farm business management etc to gain the best understanding possible.
What are your favourite memories of Harper Adams?
Time spent with friends on and off campus, there was almost always a laugh to be had but many of the fun experiences I had throughout were also great learning opportunities.