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Succession: Planning for the future

February 2020

Gavin Mathews, Bachelors in Environmental Management. Send an email to gavmat@gmail.com  

There is a lot of uncertainty in agriculture, but the fact is that there always has been and there always will be. Everything we do is determined by external factors. All that we can control are the things that we have a direct influence over and this includes succession planning in our business.

Succession is the continuance of your business in a sustainable manner into the future through your next generation. Every generation is faced with different challenges and when there are decades and even centuries of combined knowledge and expertise passed along the family tree then many of these challenges will be able to be dealt with and overcome. When you are no longer around will your business continue and if so, who will be captaining the ship? 

Going into business with family can be challenging, but at the same time it can also be very rewarding. As long as each individual has clear set goals and tasks to perform then it is quite possible to have a harmonious work environment where everyone can get along. The key to a family set-up working is to establish these clear areas of responsibility at an early stage. As soon as somebody wishes to enter the setup make sure that you all strategise and plan where the new individual will bring the most value. Everybody has different strengths and the key to running a successful operation is to identify these strengths and put them into working in a manner which brings joy and a sense of purpose to the individual but also productivity to the business. 

As head of the business you have no doubt worked very hard for many years to establish a successful operation and it can be very difficult to let go of the reins when sons or other family members enter the setup. When this occurs you should firstly evaluate your personal position; how long do you still want to be actively involved? How much time do you still have left to be physically capable to do the work required? Once you have a clear idea on these questions then you can start to put your succession plan into action. 

The best way to start is to be an extremely good listener and mentor. You need to open yourself up to new ideas and technologies that may take your business to the next level. If a valid idea is presented don’t be afraid to implement it as it shows trust in the new family incumbent’s abilities. While being open to new ideas, one should also be firm in teaching and mentoring the tried and tested ways of doing things. It all comes down to give and take and building a level of mutual respect and trust. 

If you want your son or any other family member to be involved and take over the business, then they must also want it. If they do not show interest then you will be fighting a losing battle, rather put energy into casting your radar onto somebody who really wants to farm. It may not always be a family member that continues with your business and it doesn’t always have to be. 

Succession in agriculture is very important as knowledge needs to be passed on through the generations.

How does one instil an interest in agriculture? There is no set way to get your sons to want to farm, they need to want it on their own accord. But there are ways to guide and nurture youngsters which could lead to the development of a keen interest. This is achieved by starting early, take the kids out on the farm with you or to the fields when things are happening. Talk to them and explain why you do what you do. Explain the special bond that farmers have with the soil and the environment. Teach them to respect nature and the importance of using nature wisely to feed the population. 

Only through this kind of experiential teaching will you be able to pass on the ‘flame’ to the next generation. Be wise and gentle in your influence. Don’t ever be forceful, some people are created for a different purpose in life other than agriculture and that is perfectly okay. A strong relationship with family is far more important than trying to force agriculture onto anybody. 

When the time comes to hand over responsibilities and duties be sure to do it fully. Don’t be a back-seat driver. You can and should however keep your finger on the pulse and always be there for guidance and advice. Let the new leaders of your business make some mistakes along the way. Mistakes are how one learns. But try your best to let them own the new role. Succession in agriculture is very important as knowledge needs to be passed on through the generations. Pass the baton in a loving manner and your legacy is sure to live on through your successor’s.

Publication: February 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula