AS agricultural businesses seek to grow and expand, it's worth asking: Who is it being done for?
Keeping family in focus was one of the themes to emerge from the Agforum 2019 at Bundaberg last month where a line-up of speakers delivered information on how innovation could help agribusinesses "go global".
Held at CQ University, the half-day session covered a range of topics including export market opportunities, attracting investment and demystifying blockchain.
But the sessions on succession planning and business start-ups seemed to resonate the most for many attendees.
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Family business expert and director of Liquid Gold Consultants, Susanne Bransgrove, conducted an informal case study interview with Janelle Gerry, a director and finance/administration manager of the Bundaberg-based, Macadamias Australia and Farmfresh Fine Foods.
Macadamias Australia and Farmfresh Fine Foods was established in its earliest forms by Mrs Gerry's parents and has since grown into a major horticulture agribusiness.
Several years ago it was approached by a Canadian superannuation fund to sell which forced the family to sit down and discuss the options.
The decision was made to maintain it as a family business which meant a shift in how things were run.
The company now has a board of directors with an external chairman and director, plus an annual family assembly to connect all family members, discuss business and share views.
They also created a family charter.
"In our family business, family is most important. At the end of the day, everyone belongs," Mrs Gerry said.
"Even if you're not involved, there is a responsibility to be informed as a shareholder. There is no obligation on any of the next generation to come into the business but at the end of the day, everyone still belongs whether they are part of the business or not."
Mrs Gerry said in the early stages of setting up the new structure, a lot of time was spent on family values.
"We would say, if mum and dad were in the room, that's what they'd put down," she said.
"They are beautiful conversations because they remind us who we are and the decision making we do."
Ms Bransgrove said the tradition of a business being passed onto the oldest son didn't necessarily work anymore.
She said each generation had a different perspective on what's meant to happen so communication was the key.
"Often the business and the family are separated. But if you're investing too much into the business and not the family, then what's the point of the business?" she said.
Sorting out a family business for the future was about connecting generations, according to Ms Bransgrove.
"It is an imperfect journey. It is important to create a framework where people will be," she said.
"What's the point of creating a document for the future if those who are involved in that future haven't been consulted?
"You can't create a future for the next generation you have to create one with them."
Mrs Gerry said family unity was vital and the family itself deserved all the love and attention that the business itself gets.
"Good family businesses come from good families," she said.
Staff members at Macadamias Australia and Farmfresh Fine Foods are given more than just given a job description.
They are involved in workshops which reinforce the business values and expectations.
This then flows to external business connections.
The company goes to extra lengths to ensure its customers know they are dealing with a family business.
"We really promote that. People do want to deal with family businesses; they do trust family businesses more than a corporate," she said.
"As soon as we start doing that it becomes clear."
Passion and family
THE line of thinking about emphasising the family in family business carried through to a panel session on start-up businesses, where the word "passion" was regularly used.
Panellist Trent De Paoli, director, Austchilli and managing director, Pressure Fresh, suggested getting a mentor and learning from others.
"Don't be arrogant because you think you can do it yourself," he said.
Mr Millbank said his north star was always to provide financial security for his three children.
"At some point you've got to realise that you've got to restore some balance," he said.
He said part of that included having the strength to say no to a few things.
Entrepreneurship facilitator, Rebecca Corbett, said a business can always outsource the things it didn't know how to do but there were some elements that were needed.
"You can teach someone a skill but you can't teach them passion," she said.
The Australian Industry Group's entrepreneurs' programme business facilitator, James Scotland, said it was important to temper passion with reality though.
Managing director of Agri-Con Solutions, Cameron Greaves, said when it came to pursuing his business goals, he questioned his passion every day but the support of his wife kept him pushing forward.
Another speaker was Rohan Dunsdon, a business services director with chartered accounts and business advisory firm, Bentleys.
Mr Dunsdon said there was a lot to consider when taking a business to the next level and considering calling for investors.
"When you go to an investor, you need to know all the skeletons in your closet before they do," he said.
He encouraged anyone considering it to go through six steps:
- Establish this is something the business wants to pursue
- Conduct vendor due diligence
- Review structure of the business for investment readiness
- Collate data required for due diligence
- Market for the investor and negotiate
- Form the business