At 29, Jody Scheckter became the 1979 Formula One World Champion. At 30 he retired from F1 and set up FATS Inc, a US company building firearms training simulators for military, law enforcement and security organisations. The company‘s sale provided funds to allow his personal development of Laverstoke Park Farm as a centre of excellence for organic and biodynamic farming. In each business scenario, Scheckter has been led by a driving passion to be the best.
“I‘m not a Jack-of-all-trades, but if I decide to concentrate on one thing I will give it 110% and try to do it very well,“ said the world champion race-driver.
“I‘m dyslexic, which makes you work things out differently, quickly, to think outside the box. I like to understand, I don‘t care if I ask stupid questions, and always want to be satisfied and achieve, “ added Scheckter.
Both comments reveal traits common to entrepreneurs: hard work, confidence, curiosity, focus, passion to succeed, and a need or desire to do things differently.
That drive to achieve, makes Jodie Scheckter study his chosen subjects almost to obsession, then seek to create the best device or product in its field – quite literally at his 2,500 acre farm southwest of Basingstoke.
Scheckter‘s aim at Laverstoke Park is to become self-sustaining and to produce the best-tasting, healthiest food, without compromise. It‘s a challenge Scheckter has been battling for 17 years. His performance ‘lap times‘ are excellent, but commercially he hasn‘t won his ‘winner‘s garlands‘ yet.
However, Scheckter likes to win.
Admitting that South African auto-workshops not schoolrooms were his favourite places when young, Scheckter recalls his father‘s challenge to achieve a top four junior school place in return for a go-kart. Scheckter gained the go-kart.
Go-karts led to motorbikes, led to cars, led to F1 racing. In each, Scheckter‘s hunger for automotive knowledge, technical understanding, led to hands-on creation of top-class vehicles. “I prepared a car myself which beat the professional works-Renault“, he states proudly.
In 1980, having proved himself the best and witnessed too many racetrack crashes and fatalities, Scheckter left F1 and through a friend became interested in laser-gun technology. “It was a great concept, being badly done.“
By 1984, he was sitting with his wife at the kitchen table of his American home trying to start their firearms training systems business. During the Scheckters‘ founding 12 years, FATS Inc grew into a 280-staff company, turning over $100 millon, operating in 35 countries. Today it is a leading worldwide producer of virtual training solutions for police and military.
But, in those early days, global commercial success and grand prix glamour were far away. Prototype development was slow; sales were still on the starting grid. “We paid ourselves no salaries. Our social life was a Saturday night curry at home.“
Having achieved his personal goal, Scheckter checked out of the global corporate future of FATS Inc. The sale of the company enabled him to move back to England, where he had settled in 1970, to concentrate on his new passion – healthy eating.
Scheckter‘s ‘you are what you eat‘ plan was to provide the best-tasting, healthiest food for his large family from a rural smallholding. But, his passion for perfection (plus the opportunity to sell abundant produce) kicked in. “You can‘t dabble in a company, you have to be flat-out or not at all.“
The smallholding soared to 2,500 acres. Scheckter‘s biodynamic doctrine – good soil = good grass = quality animals = better food = happy people – is highlighted by fields planted with a defined mixture of herbs, clovers and grasses to improve the soil and provide a ‘mixed salad‘ for Laverstoke‘s animals.
Scheckter managed his own F1 career, launched and ran FATS, experienced many business situations, but he admits large-scale sustainable farming has been a fresh and major challenge.
One reason is that Scheckter likes rapid results, and farming is a slow process. “Young entrepreneurs often try to squeeze so much out of a deal that it dies for other people. I aim to satisfy everyone nowadays.“ Scheckter thinks longer-term now, and tries to run his big business like a small business.
Secondly, organic and biodynamic farming has provided many diverse entrepreneurial roles to captivate Scheckter and his wife Clare.
Under the Scheckters, Laverstoke Park Farm has pioneered buffalo and wild boar products for high-street retailers and restaurants, set up a fully approved farm shop and abattoir, established Europe‘s only soil foodweb research laboratory, created an organic ale and vineyard, an 8-acre composting facility, and a ‘University of Organics“ for 3,000 annual student visitors. Since 2013, Laverstoke Park has been the CarFest South venue for the BBC Children in Need charity, which last year raised £730,000.
That‘s a lot of driving. With his organic quest resembling more a Le Mans endurance than a grand prix, Scheckter is now looking for ‘co-drivers‘ to partner him in operating and commercialising aspects of the farm.