A Mirror, box of tissue, roll of duct tape and a 2×4: Tools for Family Farm Succession Planning

Jolene Brown is no stranger to dealing with the often turbulent business world of the family farm.   She has sat at over 400 kitchen tables as a business consultant helping families navigate the emotional entanglements that can destroy the family farm or at the very least leave the people involved in it with strained relationships if not properly dealt with.

Brown is full of energy as she speaks about her line of work, which would probably leave many feeling pretty awkward.

When she enters the home of her clients and sits at the table she doesn’t mediate, she dictates, because this is the only way to deal with it.

Brown spoke at the Advancing Women in Agriculture West Conference in Calgary this week, sharing her Top Ten Mistakes that Break up the Family Business.

“What really honours the family is by doing the business right,” says Brown.

To accomplish this goal, she brings four tools with her:

1 – The Mirror:

“I bring the mirror because everyone wants me to fix someone else, ‘you know if Dad would just give up power’, ‘if Mom would just say what’s on her mind’, ‘if the kids just had a work ethic’, ‘if he just hadn’t married her, we would have been fine’. So we hold up the mirror because it is the ones at the table who are the ones who need to be fixed, because they have work to do and by holding up the mirror we are starting today.  Not what has happened in the past, not what Grandpa had in his will, not what your Uncle said to you, you start with where you are today. That’s why you need to have the mirror.”

2 – The Tissues:

“I need to have the tissues, there’s always emotions. When emotion and logic collide, emotion is going to win. So there is anger or fear or worry or tears or silence so we can get to the logic of the work we’re going to do.

3 – The Duct Tape:

“I have the duct tape to make sure everyone listens, I have to tape them to their chairs because they want to get up and leave. ‘Say my piece and I’m out the door or my feelings are hurt, no you have to be present.'”

4 – The 2×4:

“Sometimes there is no other way, you just have to let them have it. We have to get the work done.”

Brown doesn’t mince words when talking about trends she sees in the day-to-day operations of family farms, one of which is many things that are said are far from the truth.

“People in family business lie, they say things like ‘work hard and this could all be yours someday’ or ‘I’m going to retire’ or ‘you don’t have to worry about your brothers and sisters they have their own jobs, they’re not interested in the business.’ What I know is that once you die, everybody’s very interested in the assets of the business.”

She says this is why it is so critical to have more not less in writing when it comes to the family farm.

They are some proactive measures she believes all farmers should keep in mind when running the people side of the business including hiring family members well, defining what is fair and equal to help transition, valuing sweat equity and rewarding people when things happen as opposed to at time of death. .

Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference

Brown says everyone has a story in this regard and several of which were shared with her at her workshop, sponsored by RBC, at the Advancing Women in Agriculture West Conference in Calgary.

“My heart is so full, as the people came up I didn’t have just one person with a story, I probably had 20 and there were a lot more waiting to share their story. What I know is everyone has a story, every story is important and if we can take where they’re at and get them to the next step that was the value of the workshop.”

Brown says what she sees at this conference bodes well for the future of agriculture.

“When the women of agriculture truly encourage, teach, learn and support each other incredible things happen and at this conference brings the very best together. They’re learning from each other, they’re laughing together and they will go home and make a valuable difference to the people around them and their businesses.”