Q: My dad likes to talk about how much my brother loves farming. His fondest hope is that someday my brother will come home and they’ll farm together. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Right after college, seven years ago, my brother started his own business, and it’s been very successful. Now he’s talking about expanding into other states.
I, on the other hand, really want to come home and farm. My husband and I live close to my parents. We have three children and we’d love to raise them on the farm. My husband is a field rep for a major agricultural supplier. Though he doesn’t want to give up his job, he understands farming and would be a big help when needed. We’ve talked it over, and he supports my interest.
How do I approach my dad, express my interest and get him to take me seriously? He’s a good man and a hard worker. He has always been a good provider and protective of his family. However, I think he thinks girls aren’t supposed to farm.
A: Approaching a parent about your interest in farming is actually pretty simple. In fact, it is one of the biggest compliments you can bestow. Dad will listen and take you seriously if you approach him as a sincere, prepared and committed next-generation leadership candidate.
You must be confident in your qualifications. The first step you should take is to create a resumé just as you would for an outside employer. Though your dad knows about your education, he may not be fully aware of your work experiences, professional development and relevant interests—all of which will contribute to a successful management career.
You may also consider writing a plan to expand the business. When most families think about a child coming home to work in the operation, they imagine subdividing an already limited income into smaller shares. I recommend you go to your dad with a plan for growth and expansion. It should be based on your professional interests, your background and the strengths you bring to the operation. It’s a lot more sensible and exciting, for everyone involved, to build a bigger pie than it is to take another slice out of one that is already too small.
Show your dad where you fit in the operation and why it’s a good idea to include you as part of the management team. Most parents have reached a certain level of achievement and may be trapped by their own success and insecurity about trying something new. Youth and enthusiasm will overcome a lot of resistance, but your ideas must be supported by sound research and careful planning in order to impress the “been there, done that” generation.
Call a family meeting. Though this may sound a bit formal, communication is the heartbeat of a family business. With a constant flow of good communication, anything is possible; without it, nothing is. Establish a schedule for regular family meetings. Each meeting should be preceded by a formal agenda that includes the topics to be covered and should end with a commitment to action and an assigned point person.
Talk to your dad adult to adult, as peers, rather than parent to child or as employer to employee. Before you express your interest, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I interested in the operation? Is it a passion for the business, the income and benefits, the lifestyle, the freedom to choose?
- What are my qualifications for contributing to the long-term success of the operation?
- Am I committed to professional development in order to better serve the operation?
- What am I willing to contribute (or risk) to secure an opportunity in the family operation?
- November 2010