Very few farmers or any family business owners for that matter, ever truly retire. If they have built up a business and spent their working lives in that business it becomes part of them. They feel they are the business so how could they possible retire? This has been a major problem for family businesses in the past but will become even more so as people are expected to live fit and healthy lives well into their eighties. This is not good news for the next generation who want their own chance to build upon and grow the family business.
In an ideal world once business owners reach the age of about 50/55 they should be planning the future for themselves rather than the younger generation having to put pressure on them at a later stage. In many families retirement has become a taboo subject which sadly puts pressure on previously very happy family relationships.
However it is possible to facilitate a process where the older generation move aside for the younger but it has to be handled carefully and tactfully. I think the first thing is to recognise that the older generation will always be attached to the business. It has been their life’s work and they have built their self respect around their position in the business. Therefore any talk of retirement or change in status has to be dealt with sympathetically and with understanding. Farmers are not people who happen to earn a living farming. It is who they are – they are farmers.
So if the older generation are not going to retire in the accepted sense it is important that the change in their role and responsibilities is discussed and clarified. Just letting it drift along seems to cause more anguish and upset within the family as members become unsure of who is making the decisions. Also the younger generation feel that they are in a precarious situation and are torn between wanting to take over the family business and providing a secure future for their own family.
The passing on of responsibilities can be planned in an orderly manner over an agreed timeframe. However this has to be written down and agreed by everyone including the professionals who deal with the business ie bank, accountant, solicitor. This should help when the time comes to hand over overall responsibility for the business, making sure it is not postponed by a reluctant older generation.
It is very important that the older generation are moving into a new role whether within the business or with a new or related business. This is giving them a new challenge and interest in life rather than signalling that they are at the end of their productive life. So the question should not be when are you going to retire but what are you going to retire to?Some farmers assume responsibility for an enterprise within the main business, for instance young stock or machinery maintenance. Some farmers start a new enterprise of their own – a small beef herd, pedigree flock or breed horses. Some farmers start entirely new businesses away from the farm buying the local garage or shop, running a B&B or tourist enterprise.Convincing farmers that they have the skills to run another business can sometimes be difficult because few realise that farming is a hugely complicated business needing a wide range of skills, many more than ‘ordinary’ businesses. Many farmers I know who have gone on to run other businesses are surprised how easily their skills are transferred and how much simpler it is.
As in all dealings within a family business it is essential to have good communication between all parties so that all expectations are clarified. Also to make these plans in good time before relationships are put under strain. It is always great to hear Dad and Mum after a while in their new role saying “we should have done this years ago”!