One of the biggest hurdles in successfully passing down a family business (with any kind of family business) is training its successors. Same is true with family farming operations or agri-businesses, which require specialized knowledge and skill sets. Failure to do so adequately can mean the end to a family business with the manager deceases or is no longer able to manage the business. When formulating a successful succession plan, Neil Harl brilliantly suggested in this book that farms and agri-businesses build a management team.
By definition, a team consists of more than one individual (there’s no “I” in Team, right?). Harl suggests that a management “team” (instead of a singular person) will help the farm or agribusiness “weather disruptions.” Furthermore, training successors is paramount in the succession planning process. Here are some of his suggestions that I liked:
(1) stressing the idea of a team approach to decision-making;
(2) nurture the development of management skills;
(3) emphasize cross-training; and,
(4) develop a system for routine communication.
Additionally, I think farms and agri-businesses should be especially vigilant in training folks to run the business side of the farm and agribusiness. Not everyone feels comfortable handling the accounting end of the business and I believe that the entire management team should be trained to do so. It’s important that everyone know and understand the numbers of their operation.
As a final note, I like the idea of family farms and agri-businesses being run by a management team. I think it forces folks to set aside their own egos and refocus on the bigger picture — to help the family business continue to grow for many generations to come.