Communicating To The Next Generation

AgSolutions is a multi-generational family business just like many farming operations. We are aware of the need to communicate, because when we get too busy and don’t effectively communicate across our teams, the wheels can quickly fall off. Our Directors and Managers are all family. We also have what we call our extended family; our Production, Administration, Marketing, Sales, Technical and Business Support teams. For you, your family are your sons and daughters, their partners and your parents (depends who’s reading this!!).

As a fourth-generation farmers’ son, I’m well and truly aware of the challenges and need for open communication. I’m also very fortunate to travel to many properties where I’ve seen some beautiful examples of family generations working and communicating so well. I’d like to share one of those with you now.

Meet the Sullivan family from Capella in Central Queensland who I recently caught up with at Beef Week. Helen Sullivan is the matriarch and glue that holds this large USDA NOP organic cattle and farming operation together. Helen (very shyly) shared her story with me:

“Well I guess if there’s one thing I’m good at it’s talking! I’d been to a lot of workshops on various topics, including succession planning, and heard about the worst-case scenarios. I knew I didn’t want that to happen to my family, so we commenced our Family Meetings when our daughter and boys were just 15, 17 & 19 years of age (now all in their 30’s). At the first meeting, our sons Glen, Kurt and daughter Kate, asked ‘Why? – you and dad make all the decisions’. From that moment forward, I’m so glad we continued as this provided us with the foundation for our family’s ongoing communication.

When our sons finished school and came home to the property, this became our ongoing planning tool. We hold 2-3 major meetings per year and other smaller meetings as required. Our daughter facilitates and records our agenda and minutes where ideas can be raised, items identified for purchase and decisions made on which financial year for major budget items.

We use a simple format and it’s always around the kitchen table, but our meetings are always formalised by recording our discussion and outcomes. Unless you record the meeting, it means nothing and allows everyone and all decisions to be held accountable.

Our family meeting format made it so much easier to include our son’s wives in the business when they got married. Our process not only helps us with our business, it also assists us on a personal level among our family. It allows everyone to voice both positive and negative items so that things can be addressed.

For us, our family meeting structure also got us through the unforeseen. Several years ago, I suddenly lost my husband Danny. Our kitchen table meetings guided us through this tragedy and allowed us to change the structure of running the property and for our cattle operation to transition to organic.

Going organic for us was primarily a marketing tool and allowed us to move away from chemicals and their health effects on our family. We were already doing paddock rotations to manage cattle ticks prior to going organic though it was our meetings and decision-making format that made this transition achievable.

My parting advice to all farming families out there, like us, is to start meeting, start communicating and record your meetings. This has been our journey, and everyone’s will be different.”

AgSolutions thanks Helen and her family, long time clients, for sharing such a valuable lesson.