Perpetuating generational ranches requires asking questions rather than making assumptions
Running a ranch can be like riding a bull, according to Dave Specht of Advising Generations, LLC in Connell, Wash.
Ranchers tie themselves emotionally and financially to their ranching operations, Specht told over 300 producers. He compared it to how bull riders tie themselves onto a bull.
“Success in a family operation is being able to make an exit gracefully and being able to perpetuate the ranch for another generation,” he said.
In Specht’s line of work, he focuses on preserving families and perpetuating legacies. He told producers when working with multiple generations, there are no cookie-cutter answers.
“I am the pursuer of inspired questions,” he said. “The answers to the challenges in these generational ranches and how to perpetuate them lies within ourselves. I am just there to help pull the answers out. I can’t tell a rancher to do A, B and C. Every situation is different.”
“Every rancher faces questions about how to operate, how to position for the future, who should own the ranch and who has the talent to manage the ranch,” Specht continued. “While all these questions are difficult, they must be confronted.”
Specht believes the biggest threat to the future of the family ranch is the lack of positive and consistent communication within the ranch family. Specht emphasized how important it is to ask questions and implement solutions.
“There are always a lot of questions everyone in the family has,” he said, “but no one wants to ask them.”
Every family faces challenges from sibling rivalry, financial issues, divorce and the knowledge that the family business is a dying breed, but Specht told producers to focus on the positive.
“We need to be advocates for all that is good about these family operations,” he added.
“Everyone will have a different perspective, and we may be surprised what we hear. For instance, a grandfather may look at things differently than what the grandchild would,” he said.
Shared ownership can be a challenge, and Specht says communication is crucial.
Ranchers told Specht that deciding who is the chief and who is the Indian can be difficult in a shared ownership situation.
Other challenges mentioned were agreeing on ways to make the operation equitable, agreeing on common goals and prioritizing.
“What is important to remember is there is not a right answer for every family,” Specht said. “Each family has its own unique situation and its own set of challenges.”
“What can become a problem is not talking about it with the next generation,” he stated.
“Many people will spend years losing sleep over how to divide up an operation because they are afraid to have that crucial conversation,” he continued. “It is important to be intentional about communication. Don’t avoid it. Prepare what questions each person wants to ask their kids and determine what conversations they need to have with non-participating owners.”
“Don’t assume the next generation knows what the we want,” he said, “and don’t assume the next generation sees the ranch the way we do. Don’t assume anything – we have to ask.”
To get the ball rolling on generational transfer discussions Dave Specht of Advising Generations, LLC offered 10 inspired questions he hoped ranchers would take home and ask their families to generate crucial discussions.
1. What does it mean to be a member of this family?
2. What is the biggest unknown regarding the future of the family ranch?
3. What is or would be the hardest thing about being a parent and an owner of the ranch?
4. What does each family member perceive as the biggest challenge regarding shared ownership in a family ranch?
5. At what age do the decisions in personal life influence how people look at the ranch?
6. What is the comfort level with having to personally guarantee the debt of the family ranch?
7. If you owned the ranch, what do you think would keep you awake at night?
8. Complete this sentence: “The best thing about being a part of a family ranch is ...”
9. What responsibilities come with owning a ranch?
10. What innovations will the family ranch have to make to stay competitive?
Specht said what will surprise ranchers who take the time to ask their family members these questions is the answers they receive.