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A guide to family meetings

The Hansen family began holding weekly business meetings
four years ago. They’ve found that the meetings are critical to the operation
of their multigeneration and fully integrated dairy business.

Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy, Hudson, Iowa, involves parents
Jay and Jeanne Hansen and their four sons: Brent, Brad, Blair, and Blake. The
Hansens milk 175 registered Holsteins and grow feed on 440 acres.

They process nearly all the milk in an on-farm creamery.
Products include whole, skim, 1% butterfat, and chocolate milk. They also
produce cream, butter, cheese curds, and ice cream.

Marketing outlets include local grocery stores as well as
schools, day care centers, and restaurants.

They also run an on-farm retail store along with privately
owned stores located in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The work of producing, processing, marketing, and retailing
employs six family members full time along with 35 employees.

Needless to say, keeping their diverse business running
smoothly takes coordination and communication. Family business meetings are

“Our meetings provide a way for everyone to slow down, take
time to think about the business, and try to really communicate. It’s a time
for the production and the marketing sides of the business to come together,”
says daughter-in-law Jordan Hansen, who handles the bookkeeping and marketing.

They began meeting when the family was working with a
consultant on issues relating to the generational transfer of the operation.
The growing complexities of running their integrated operation posed an obvious
and ongoing need for consistent communication.

Family members meet every Wednesday for an hour or 90
minutes. The meetings include the voting members of the family who share
ownership: Jay and Jeanne and their four sons. Jordan also attends, as do two
retail store managers.

“After the store managers give their reports, sometimes they
leave and we discuss financial issues in private,” says Jordan.

Beyond the managerial reports, no set agenda guides the
discussion of the business. Topics simply emerge as the family reviews issues
relating to production and marketing.

Each of the four brothers manages an aspect of the business.
Sharing information at the meetings allows family members to understand how
production issues relating to the cows, for instance, may affect processing

Recent meeting topics have included whether or not to
purchase computerized monitoring collars for the cows, planting GMO vs. non-GMO
corn, and identifying additional retailers who could potentially sell their

While the informal format works well for the weekly
meetings, the family’s annual business meetings are more structured.

One potential emotional downside of weekly meetings can
arise from the discussion.

“Depending upon the events of each week, there can be a lot
of talk about problems,” says Jordan. “It makes us aware of additional things
that need to be done or that need to be done better. In that way, the meetings
can lead to more work, in general.”

Management decisions are most often made by consensus. If a
stalemate occurs, the six business owners take a vote.

If the Hansens expand their business, they will consider
including employees in the meetings. “This would give them a voice, of course,
which is important, because they have good ideas,” says Jordan.

“The overall benefit of the meetings is that it really gives
us an opportunity to take stock of everyone’s view of the direction we’re
heading,” she says.

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Jordan Hansen

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