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Leave a Legacy

RSS By: Kevin Spafford, Legacy Project

Kevin Spafford is Farm Journal’s succession planning expert for the Farm Journal Legacy Project.  He hosts the nationally-televised ‘Leave a Legacy’ TV, facilitates an ongoing series of workshops for farm families across the U.S., and is the author of Legacy by Design: Succession Planning for Agribusiness Owners.

Spectacular and Disastrous History

Oct 02, 2013

iStock Old GrapevinesFrom Legacy Moment (09.27.2013).
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During the past couple of weeks, I've been preparing for a presentation at the end of October. Since the event is in California, I want to open with a story from the Golden State. Robert Mondavi was truly a pioneer. He spearheaded the wine movement that put Napa Valley on the map. Before him, this region of oak hills and temperate climate was studded with small ethnic towns with typical family farms. Though grapes were produced in the area, wine was mostly a product for home consumption.

The Mondavis have a spectacular story with a disastrous conclusion. Business success is a hallmark for this family of vintners. But "family" might have been in name only.

Fast forward to 2007, when The House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler was published. That book taught me more about the foibles of family than any single thing I've studied in the past 15 years. In the book, Siler goes to grave lengths to describe this family's history and point to situations that might have torn them apart.

At 52, Robert Mondavi struck out on his own. He started a winery, established a brand and then fashioned the Napa Valley lifestyle experience. He worked hard, building a business from scratch that eventually sold for $1.36 billion. With plenty of family scrapes along the way, he never reconciled with his kids long enough to write a succession plan. Despite plenty of money and lots of incentive, this family couldn't separate themselves from their egos long enough to plan for the future.

In the end, Robert Mondavi's family lost the winery, the label and the dignity of continuing a business founded by one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time. Robert left a trail of tears, broken dreams and bad feelings. His legacy might be one of dissonance.

It isn't money, assets or possessions that create legacies. People do. What's your legacy, and does it square with what your children will say when you're gone? Is it by design, because of the actions you're taking? Or is it by default, due to the decisions you won't make?

Succession is the act of planning the legacy you intend to leave. Most will be happy to know that their kids are successful, the farm will live on and that they helped by creating the opportunity for future generations.

How do you measure success? Write to Ask Kevin and let me know (your responses will not be published).  

News & Resources for You: 

How the Mondavis Lost an Empire (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2007)

Seek out the legacy you envision for your family. Start the conversation.

Registration is open now! Sign up for Legacy Project Workshops in Lincoln, Neb.; Peoria, Ill.; and Indianapolis, Ind.

Plan now to secure your farm for future generations.

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