What is important to consider in deciding whom to exclude – or include – in the business?
The Problem (submitted by K.D.)
We have a great family and currently everyone gets along well, but I am concerned as I hear my husband’s plan for our farm business. He has 75% ownership, and we have two married sons employed on the farm. My husband wants to exclude our daughters-in-law from the business. I know how I would feel as “the in-law” if this decision had been forced upon me. Instead, I have been kept informed, included in major decisions, helped our business grow, and have some ownership in the assets of the farm. My question is: If my husband has his way, how do you exclude family without ruining ties?
It sounds like your husband has majority power to direct inclusion in the business, but as his spouse, a mother, and a partial owner, you should speak up on this important issue. These questions would be helpful for you both to answer before making a decision:
- What are your daughters-in-law being excluded from? (Ownership, employment, information, celebration?) When and how will they be informed of this decision?
- Why does he want to exclude them?
- Is he preparing legal documents clarifying his intent?
- Do you want or need the in-laws’ support (skills and expertise, financial contributions, off-farm income and benefits, emotional backing, or free help when needed)?
- Have you asked your sons to share their perspectives?
- If either of you were excluded from a family operation as he is proposing, would that change your behavior toward the business, your spouse, and your in-laws?
It’s not uncommon for a business to transfer ownership by bloodline only. (This policy must be known by all.) Other areas of the farm operation might include your in-laws and benefit everyone. They might be a hired (and paid) employee or manager for their expertise and work. Perhaps you gratefully welcome their offered involvement and support during peak times of work and find a special way to thank them. As the farm team, you could all celebrate accomplishments.
I especially respect businesses that include full-time family employees’ spouses at the annual meeting. They are present for information sharing, not operational decision making. In the morning, key players report on different areas of the business and the past year’s results are given. There can be a discussion of the next year’s business plan. Ownership status, key players, and advisers are identified; questions are welcomed; and everyone celebrates over lunch. Then the general session can be closed, and only those active in the business full-time continue the decision making and operational work of the business.
There is much you can do to foster good relationships with your sons’ spouses. Strive to always be pleasant and polite, kind and appreciative. They are family. Talk a lot about children, school, weather, neighbors, community. Ask about the people who are important to them.
Since your husband has majority control, he can decide the value (positive or negative) of exclusion and inclusion in the business. But this is a major decision that could impact your family dynamics. Your input is needed. Answer the six questions, and I believe your actions will become clear.
Jolene Brown is a professional speaker, author, farmer, and family business consultant. She shares her passion, experience, and fun-filled spirit with farmers and ranchers across North America. Her tested business tools provide leadership and management solutions for the people who feed, clothe, and fuel the world. jolenebrown.com