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A guide to family meetings

01/13/2014 @ 12:48pm

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 critical.

“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 needs.

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 products.

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

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