Succession planning ‘is not a taboo subject’

Succession planning ‘is not a taboo subject’
Natalie and Alison Gibb. With a Bachelor of Applied Science degree under her belt, Natalie has returned to the family farm at Orini, nar Hamilton after working on other farms for the last fi ve years.

The first that Alison Gibb’s mother knew that the family farm was being sold was when Alison’s father told her they were going to the lawyers, saying – ‘I’m selling the farm to the boys.’
Alison asks; “How often do we hear stories like this veiled as succession planning?” Today, Alison and her husband Russell have a successful dairy farming business in Orini, just out of Hamilton, which they have operated for the last 34 years.
The couple have three children; one who farms in partnership with her parents, and the other two who have pursued very successful careers outside of farming.
With the legacy of her mother’s experience still fresh in her mind, Alison & Russell are passionate about succession planning and putting systems in place to ensure certainty, provide opportunity for contribution and a shared understanding about the future.
Five years ago Alison was introduced to a professional specialist in succession planning.
After meeting with him Alison came back excited about the way forward and that she had found someone who ‘resonated’ with her natural need for communication.
“It was important that succession planning could be openly discussed, so that people knew where they stood and what they could expect – not a taboo subject.”
Very much of the mind that they all needed to work together as a family, that it is not mum and dad saying ‘this is what it will be’; Russell and Alison agree that their children’s contribution and ideas are just as important.
“When the first ‘succession planning’ meeting was held, the children’s response was interesting,” says Alison. “It has made everything alright – that it can be talked about. It’s not an unwritten subject that you leave alone.”
The couple says that even though they don’t necessarily have regular structured meetings, one of the children will come to them and say…’I’ve been thinking about so-and-so and we could do this or that’, ‘and then another will do the same’.
“So they feel it’s OK to talk about the future and this farm as being the centre of the family unit,” says Russell.
Succession planning ‘is not a taboo subject’
From the Gibb’s experience in their journey towards successful succession planning, finding an ‘expert’ who ‘gets’ the family, its dynamics and with whom you can develop a strong rapport with is a key to success.
The next thing is to sit around the table as a family, with each person talking about their personal goals for the next 2, 5 and 10 years, and build a picture of what the family might look like in the future.
Alison says that appreciating your children may have different needs is another key to success. She says while you cannot treat everyone the same you must endeavor to treat them fairly.
“Working as a team and exploring the many options for succession is essential. It’s not just about who gets the farm when you die. Think about succession planning as building a future, investing in the family and not just for the next generation but successive generations.”
Russell and Alison have also placed the farm into a Trust so that the farm will continue to provide wealth for future generations.
Recently, middle daughter Natalie, returned to the family farm and formed a company with Russell and Alison – Fyvie Meadows Ltd – which leases the farm from the Trust.
With a Bachelor of Applied Science degree from Massey University, Natalie has been working away from home on farms for the last five years, always headhunted, rising through the ranks from farm assistant to contract milker.
Alison explains that with the Trust owning the farm, if Natalie wanted to go and buy her own farm there is nothing stopping her from doing that.
“We’ve told the other two they don’t need to work in the business but they do need to understand how it works, so that if Natalie bought her own farm, they could equally contribute to its directorship.”
With a structured approach to succession planning and trust ownership of the farm, not only is there certainty and transparency for the children, but there is on-going provision for future generations.
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