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Lead the Way to Defined Success

October 30, 2013
By: Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal Columnist
MaryFritz5 edited
Montana’s Mary Fritz, shown here with her husband, John, is a farm leader who is charting the future of her family’s ranch for generations to come.   
 
 

Team focus aids ranch and board success

Mary Fritz feels most at home on the pastures of her Quarter Circle JF Ranch in Montana, yet when it comes to business, she is fully committed to her leadership positions.

She and her husband grow grain and raise cattle, but Fritz is also a consummate leader in ag finance.  She was the first woman elected to her local Farm Credit advisory board and was subsequently elected as board chair. She was also the first woman elected to CoBank’s Board of Directors, where she serves as 2nd vice chair. Additionally, Fritz is the first woman to serve on the Farm Credit Council Board of Directors, where she currently serves as chair.

When asked about her key to success as a woman pioneer in agricultural finance and business, Fritz responds, "A lot of hard work."

After 18 years of board service and a lifetime on the farm, Fritz knows a thing or two about leading people. Unlike the traditional belief that leadership is one person leading and everyone else following, Fritz believes leadership is more of a team effort. Similar to a board discussion, it isn’t an all or nothing affair, she explains.

Through the years, she’s worked with folks who have ascended to the position of chair. "A good chair uses the entire staff and encourages each person to participate by providing input and sharing their unique perspective," Fritz says.

Acknowledging that she wears many hats not only a board member but also as a ranch co-owner/business manager, wife, mother and grandparent, Fritz’s true passion remains farming. "There’s something about the smell of fresh-plowed dirt," she says. "I’m a steward of this farm and someday I’ll pass it on, so I intend to leave it a little better than I found it."

Plan for Someday. Much of what Fritz speaks of, her regard for agriculture and leaving a legacy, demands a succession plan. Her daughters, Angie and Jennifer, are the fifth generation of this farm family. Although each has married, neither anticipates a farm career. They appreciate their upbringing and plan to continue their farming legacy, even if only as landlords.

Far more than avoiding a taxable transfer, succession is about capturing the Fritz’s farming legacy and passing it to a well-prepared next generation. It’s about ensuring the right ownership structure and providing financial security for each family dependent on the operation.

Much like any type of teamwork, the succession process requires a desire to create something bigger than self. Multigenerational success is the result of planting the right seeds, nurturing an appreciation for farming and then guiding the next generation through a defined transition.

It’s too early to know, but for the Fritz family, the plan might be different than most. They might transition to a non-family operator so Angie and Jennifer can be a part of the farm without the responsibility of daily management.

Or someday a descendent of the Fritz family might once again farm the Northern Plains. Just like her board work, Fritz understands that succession will require leadership that is a team effort.

Learn more about how Fritz planned for the succession of Quarter Circle JF Ranch at www.TopProducer-Online.com/Legacy_Fritz

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - November 2013

 
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