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Family Business Matters       06/04 06:37

   What's Really Important

   Succession planning extends beyond financial and physical assets.


By Lance Woodbury
DTN Farm Business Adviser

   In a meeting several years ago with a group of farmers, we were talking 
about the timeliness of planting and harvesting, and about the pressure -- and 
neighbor's ridicule -- that goes with being last in or out of the field. After 
most of the group weighed in, one participant cleared his throat and quietly 
recounted his diagnosis of cancer when his kids were young and how he did not 
expect to be living at this point in his life. 

   After that diagnosis, he said, he never cared whether people viewed him as 
late. The most important goal from then on was to spend time with his kids and 
wife, even if that meant shutting down early to go to their athletic games, be 
with them for meals or take a vacation. His brush with death made him realize 
that one extra day of planting or one more day of harvesting was worth the 
opportunity to spend time where it really mattered. Coffee-shop gossip was 
trivially unimportant compared to spending every minute he could with those he 
loved. 

   There was absolute silence as he finished speaking.

   With all our emphasis on the details of succession planning, a fundamental 
question sometimes gets lost: "Are my physical and financial assets really the 
most important thing I am leaving to my children and grandchildren?" 

   In addition to our time, there are at least three other forms of wealth to 
consider:

   EDUCATION

   Many doors open with a good education. College or technical school, or 
continuing education offer a chance to learn a skill, develop a way of thinking 
about the world and obtain a stepping stone to more opportunities. Educational 
experiences also create a network of new friends and foster independence 
through emotional and physical distance from family members. The gifts that 
come through education can be both business- and life-changing.

   EXPERIENCES

   Beyond education, people grow when placed outside of their comfort zone. On 
a recent trip to China, I had the chance to learn a culture I'd only read and 
heard about in the news, and now I'm much more informed and appreciative of the 
challenges faced by our two countries. What experiences shaped who you are 
today, and how might you provide experiences to your children or grandchildren 
that will positively influence how they see the world? Understanding the 
challenges of the poor or the hungry, or experiencing life as a minority in 
another culture -- those gifts will shape how one sees the world and his or her 
place in it.

   CHARACTER

   Are the values you hold most dear recognized by your family? My parents and 
grandparents instilled the value of serving others through their work as 
teachers, nurses, ministers, housewives and farmers. While I certainly have 
developed my own sense of what is important, their example undoubtedly 
influenced how my siblings and I see the world. David Brooks, in "The Road to 
Character," suggests that "moral improvement occurs ... when we come into 
contact with people we admire and love and we consciously and unconsciously 
bend our lives to mimic theirs." 

   I'll close by adding one more to the list: joy. What greater gift might you 
give to family members than a feeling of joy in their lives? Think about where 
you've experienced real joy in your life. Money and land may be part of the 
package, but your personal growth, time spent with those you love and shared 
experiences are just as much a part of the equation. If that means some work 
gets done tomorrow instead of today, it may be a great trade.

   **

   Editor's Note: Write Lance Woodbury at Family Business Matters, 2204 
Lakeshore Dr., Suite 415, Birmingham, AL 35209, or email lance@agprogress.com.


(AG/BAS)

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