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Battle of the Brothers

Agriculture.com Staff 11/09/2010 @ 11:13am

B.L., Ohio

I've been home on the farm for over 10 years (after finishing college and working for a large company). A weeklong ag management program motivated me to introduce some key management ideas that my brother, Dan, ignores.

Dan, who's also my partner, is a practical, nuts-and-bolts guy. He joined my father (a first-generation farmer) right out of high school. That's the best teacher one can have to learn a singular focus -- building a successful business in production agriculture.

He is a very serious, no-frills entrepreneur, uncomfortable working with traditional financial numbers (so that's my job). But he has a successful track record of building equity in a successful cropping and dairy business.

He gauges our success on how quickly we are able to pay off our operating line and how well we minimize our income tax expense. Sound familiar?

His business strategy: If we make a crop, everything else will work itself out.

My brother now is talking about putting together a more formal management structure to help lead to an exit/succession plan for him. Because of our age and business size, we are dependent more and more on key line managers like our dairy manager and crops managers. Everything is informal and unstructured, however.

We need to think this through carefully, and we could use the help of experts who know how to do such things. But my brother only trusts the opinion of other successful, large farmers (a group in which I obviously don't belong).

What would you suggest?

Dr. Jonovic's Solution

The entrepreneur is a very special breed of our species. As B.L. describes his brother, this breed is focused, tough-minded, self-reliant, indomitable, persistent, and suspicious of those who haven't been "in the war."

Suspicious doesn't mean paranoid. It's learned caution about the unsupported opinions and advice of anyone who hasn't actually faced disaster, survived failure, wrenched profit out of the earth, built a business, and met a payroll.

Entrepreneurship can't be taught in schools and is almost impossible to pass on to children. Dan is one of the few who was able to take wisdom from his father and build his own upon it. Now, it seems, he's hit that wall where his success outstrips his genius and experience.

Dan already has friends just like himself, but it's not likely that they've ever talked about internal business challenges. More likely it's grain markets, weather, and politics. Self-reliants don't talk about the other problems.

Dan's friends give B.L. a tool to persuade him to open up. B.L. can suggest a meeting with these respected and trusted farmers to explore how they're managing transition and internal challenges -- and what, if any, experts they use.

Even if none of them knows trustworthy experts, the very act of raising the questions should make it obvious these problems are shared. Like the ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes the Cynic, they're now more likely to be motivated to search for some honest men.

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