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A Closer Look

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A Closer Look

. . . At Five Succession Questions You Should Resolve

Apr 30, 2010
 

By Kevin Spafford, Leave A Legacy
 

In preparing for an episode of Leave a Legacy TVI met recently with a very large, vertically integrated dairy owner. The profile was for "Legends of Leadership," and I intended to focus on his vision for the future. 

 

As we talked about his operation and prepared to videotape the interview, I asked about his succession plans. I was shocked to hear this 68-year-old founder, with three active (and one inactive) children, a 4,000-cow dairy, processing plant and other related interests, say, "I really haven’t given it much thought."  

 

"This interview is about leadership," I reminded myself. "Yet, how can he be a leader in every sense of the word if he’s not preparing for the single biggest obligation a family business owner may ever face?"

 

The planner in me almost overran the TV host as I struggled not to react. I didn’t want to turn our conversation into a consultation, so I stuttered and stammered to contain the five questions that kept bubbling to the surface.

 

Review the following questions. Noodle them around in your mind, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll help you to realize that succession planning is a responsibility of leadership. Building a business bigger than self is admirable; growing it forward is enviable.

 

Five questions you should resolve:

 

1.     Is continuing family ownership important?

For most family agribusiness owners, continuing family ownership may be one of the primary reasons for going to work every morning. Most of the participants in our first round of Legacy Project Workshops rated continuing family ownership  as "strongly agree or agree" (87% in Madison, 94% in Owatonna and 93% in Sioux Falls).

 

2.     Have you identified a successor, and implemented a leadership development/management transition plan?

 

3.     Are you, your family and the farm protected from the devastating contingencies of death and disability of key personnel ? including you?

  

4.     Do all of your dependents ? family members, loyal employees, third party suppliers, bankers and the co-op ? know the details of your succession plan?


At our recent workshops, we posed the question, "Do you have a written succession plan?" The response was predominantly ‘no’ (97% in Madison, 89% in Owatonna and 95% in Sioux Falls).

 

What would your response be? If, like most of our workshop attendees, you don’t have a written comprehensive succession plan; if you haven’t identified a successor; if you don’t know for certain that you, your family and the operation are protected from devastating contingencies; and can’t assure your third-party alliances that the operation will continue in your absence ? it may be time to seek help.

 

5.     Does your operation employ a third-party advisor who understands your succession intentions, speaks for the entity (gives voice to the agribusiness) and guides you and the family through a comprehensive process of succession planning?

 

Again, workshop attendees tell us the primary issue keeping them from completing a plan is they don't know what to do and/or don't know where to find help (66% in Madison, 61% in Owatonna and 86% in Sioux Falls).

 

If you struggle with the where to begin and who can help, check out The Farm Journal Legacy Project.

It should be the next step in your succession planning pursuits. Whether you’re just beginning down the path, or looking for a second opinion, the tools we provide, the information we’ve created and the experiences that we promote are all designed to help.

 

We invite you to check back regularly, since new content is added almost daily. The goal of this initiative is to provide good information, relevant tools and worthwhile planning experiences so that you may achieve your succession dreams. 

 

Kevin Spafford serves as Farm Journal’s succession planning expert. His firm, Legacy by Design, guides farmers and agribusiness owners through the succession planning process. Send questions and comments to Legacy by Design, 2550 Lakewest Drive, Suite 10, Chico, CA 95928, (877) 523-7411 or legacyproject@farmjournal.com.

 

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