Dear Michael:

We have an interesting situation on our farm. In addition to our farming operation, we also have two other entities operating on the farm. We have three sons with three different personalities. One likes working with livestock, so he works in our feeding operation. We had a dirt moving operation my dad started and is still doing quite well. My second son – the one with the most business sense – takes care of all the details there. My youngest son just kind of floats between farming, dirt work, and whatever needs to be done.

From a business sense, two out of the three don’t really like handling the business part. They just like the work. They seem content on wages and they all seem to get along good. The one who has good business sense just puts his stamp on everything.

How do we do this when we have so many irons in the fire? It’s hard to know which iron is going which direction.

– Too Many Irons

Dear Too Many Irons:

On one hand, it’s good that you have all three of your kids involved in your family businesses. It’s nice they all bring something to the table and all contribute and feel like they are getting a fair shake from you.

In most cases, I find the glue that binds them all together is usually Dad and Mom. In many cases, when you’re no longer there, the glue can lose its elasticity over time.

Small differences between things not necessarily dealing with the business tend to creep into their relationships, as all humans constantly evolve with new circumstances and new information. To expect all three of them to evolve in exactly the same direction is asking quite a lot – especially as their families begin to evolve. First a wife, then kids, then raising kids, etc.

No two families are exactly alike, and if they found out they were exactly like their siblings, they’d change so as not to be. We all want to leave our own individual stamp upon the world.

It’s why so often it’s hard for farming fathers to leave their farm, either to a bachelor son or to a daughter who is married and farming. They know this means eventually there’s going to be another name on the mailbox, another name used to refer to the land they used to own or farm, and their memory will fade. Give ‘Farm Dad’ a son who farms with him and grandkids who love farming, and that would satisfy 90% of the men out there.

Life well lived!

My best advice would be to sit down and have a family business meeting and get these three talking about what they really think or they really feel.

It sounds like you trust your middle son to handle the business affairs, but you likely don’t know how many decisions you are now making that another son is patiently waiting to take over when you die. To take this away from him just because he doesn’t ‘seem’ interested would be a shame.

On the other hand, if all three prefer to have the middle son make the business decisions necessary for all of the entities, then we can set that down into a business agreement of what he can do, how big of decisions he can make without input, when the others get to vote, etc.

You might also consider putting each entity into a separate LLC so that no liability from one business bleeds over into the others.

To answer your questions, Too Many Irons, I’d have to sit down and talk with all of them together and see what they are really thinking before I could give you a firm answer.

Just when we are pretty sure we know all the way these boys will think and react, we usually find something we’re glad we addressed that ‘pops up’ years later.