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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.

Lance Woodbury
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 
even destructive.

   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 
thank you.


   Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 Lakeshore Dr., Suite 
415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email lance.woodbury@kcoe.com.

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