Family Business Matters 04/27 05:00
Promise and Peril When Returning to the Farm
Younger generations should return to the family farm for the right reasons.
DTN Farm Business Adviser
Having been a part of family-farm and ranch transition discussions for more
than 25 years, I've witnessed many younger generation members return to -- and
occasionally leave -- the family business.
The choice to join the company is a point of pride for parents and
grandparents, as it represents the continuation of a legacy. But sometimes
people join the family business for the wrong reasons, and over time, they and
their family members become miserable. Consider the following healthy and
unhealthy reasons people return to the family business.
In many cases, the next generation is passionate about agriculture. I hear
stories of kids riding in tractor cabs prior to walking or spending more time
working with livestock than going to school or doing homework. They know from a
very early age their life will be directed toward the farm or ranch. In some
cases, going away to college is seen almost as punishment. Their desire to be
on the farm burns like fire.
Another reason people return to the family business is opportunity. To them,
the ideal lifestyle is one in which they are their own boss, free to succeed or
fail based on their approach to business and their ability to work with the
soil, animals and nature. The entrepreneurial drive can best be achieved by
participating in the family's historical foundation of economic activity.
A third reason for returning to the operation includes a sense of
stewardship. These family members feel compelled to take care of assets gleaned
through the sacrifice of prior generations. It may be less about a particular
farming activity or a specific part of the livestock business, and more about
utilizing the resources available to the family.
There are other reasons people may return (and stay) in the business.
Marriage to a farming spouse or taking over after an unexpected death or
disability also bring people into the organization.
There are also reasons people choose to join the family business which, in
the long run, can lead to unhappiness. One of these is a sense of obligation.
Unlike the positive aspects of stewardship, obligation suggests one comes back
not of his or her own choosing, but because someone else wanted him to. These
people have aspirations and goals that go unfulfilled when they replace their
passion with someone else's. The lack of fulfillment eventually creates
resentment, and unless they leave, the family relationship becomes tense or
People also return because they aren't sufficiently motivated or clear about
what they want to do. Coming back is easy because the senior generation makes a
place for them, even if doing so enables continued uncertainty. Being unclear
or unmotivated can result in a lack of drive, taking energy away from the
business. As a family member, that person holds a certain status and helps set
the tone for the company, and his or her involvement becomes a weak link.
Finally, some people return because they were not successful elsewhere. If
the returning member comes from having failed somewhere else, it is critical to
understand the origins of the flop. Has she learned the right lessons? Is he
self-aware enough to understand where he needs to get better? Make sure there
is an open and honest conversation about the changes that person needs to make
to be successful when returning.
Coming back to the farm or ranch is a major life decision that has decades
of future benefits or consequences. Take the time as a family to seriously
explore the reasons behind one's return to the business. Your future self will
Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite
415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email email@example.com.
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