Getting to know you: Laurence Harris


What do you currently do?

Based on a farm in Wales, I oversee and run two product lines under the award-winning organic dairy brand Trioni Ltd: Daioni and Daionic. A farmer by trade, I’ve grown up on a farm so my interest in dairy farming stems from an early age. In 1999 I saw an opportunity to follow an organic route, which was definitely a profitable and worthwhile decision. We now farm 2,500 acres, including 700 cows, 1,200 ewes, 150 beef cattle and 500 acres of arable. Trioni’s real story began 15 years ago, when I joined forces with two neighbouring dairy farmers, spotting a gap in the market for long-life organic dairy. I managed to carve out a niche and break the mould of many traditional farmers by seeking out new business opportunities, including those in new markets. This proactive approach has since paid dividends, with the company achieving a sales turnover of £1.4million in 2013.

What is your inspiration in business?
Undoubtedly, what inspires and drives me is the opportunity to reach new markets and new audiences with our product. In 2012/4, Trioni became the first UK dairy farm to achieve an organic certification to export to China; a direct results of a lot of hard work and commitment. This achievement is proof that through innovation and entrepreneurial product development, local British family run businesses can expand into international markets – something I wholeheartedly advocate. Family support is also an enormous help and inspiration; my son Ben lives and works in Hong Kong for an investment company, and his advice on ‘doing business’ with China continues to be invaluable. Face to face meetings are an absolute necessity, as it makes it easier to negotiate with a translator in the room with you, as opposed to over email or the phone. Of course, travelling for business meetings never feels like a chore when getting to see my nearest and dearest as well!

Who do you admire?
In a nutshell, I admire people who simply ‘go out and grab it’ – be that in business or life in general. Starting with the glaringly obvious, at least from a corporate perspective, Richard Branson is someone I hold in high esteem as the ultimate entrepreneur. You don’t need me to tell you about the serious risks he has taken throughout his career, but his empire is certainly something to be proud of. I’m also a big admirer of Mohammad Ali, who demonstrated incredible perseverance and most importantly, stood up for what he believed in. Finally Alan Johnson, who has shown that anything is possible when you put your mind to it!

Looking back would you have done things differently?
Yes of course, this whole journey has been a huge learning curve and mistakes are part and parcel of that. If I could go back, I’d definitely take more time to consider and evaluate business opportunities before ‘jumping in’. The excitement of potential growth and new customers can sometimes cloud better judgement, but important experience is gained from each individual decision and has definitely helped grow us into the company we are today. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Learning to be more astute and ‘business-savvy’ is something that comes with time and experience however.

What defines your way of doing business?
My personal motto is and always has been ‘onwards and upwards’ – we’re a very gung-ho business! Translated from its origin in China, this phrase in fact means ‘work together’, which couldn’t be more fitting given both our relationship with China and our company’s family culture. I work closely with my wife, Eira and son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Francesca. Family-business relationships aren’t always easy, but we always find a way to make it work. We approach everything as a team and treat all of our employees as part of the Trioni clan. Consequently, I would never ask anyone to do anything I myself would not do – it’s just not the Trioni way. However, there have been occasions when we have invited external business consultants when a difficult decision needs to be made. Not as a peacemaker as such, but sometimes we just need someone to mediate and offer guidance from an objective point of view.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t try and go it alone. There can be a temptation to be as self-sufficient as possible, particularly if you’ve previously been part of a more corporately structured organisation. There will be obstacles that in order to navigate you’ll require partners or associated professional bodies by your side. Forge and nurture these relationships, and keep in regular communication to ensure you’re working towards the same goal; one which has mutual benefits.

Financial concerns are a normal part of running any business but even more so when starting out on your own. Trust your gut, but also be realistic with what you can and can’t invest. If like me, your business has an international objective, I’d always suggest doing a bit of research beforehand but more importantly getting out there yourself and personally checking out the market. Look into the country and competitors already established. Be aware of potential import tariffs and the price competitors are charging so you can position your product accordingly. Trade missions, organised by the UKTI and food shows hosted around the world are an invaluable way of getting under the skin of different countries.

Although visiting the country personally is needed, there are also many things you can do with your feet firmly on British soil and sourcing funding is one of those. The UKTI and FDEA were, again, incredibly supportive in this and helped point me in the right direction. Looking closer to home, the Welsh Assembly has also been instrumental to our initial and continued growth – so don’t underestimate regional support either.