Fresh Advice Across The Board

Posted on 1/12/2020

Agribusiness

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Overview:

Matthew Petersen uncovers the benefits of advisory boards to farm businesses and how best to go about selecting members and putting it in action.

Most busy private business owners, no matter what industry, become the go-to people for everything and anything within their business and as a result don’t spend the time away from the day-to-day operations to consider the bigger picture goals they are trying to achieve, nor the strategies to get there. A modern-day farming operation is no different, and this is before adding in the complexity of working with family members or perhaps even working on your own. Developing clear and well considered strategic decisions and goals, ensuring all stakeholders within the business are being heard and keeping all parties accountable for their actions can be incredibly difficult.

An advisory board is a great way to bring family members together with selected external individuals and advisers in an organised and regular way to assist with developing the business goals, building frameworks and strategies to achieve them. Most importantly, the advisory board can review, challenge and provide feedback around the business performance to assist in achieving its objectives. Having planned, structured and regular meetings that involve external parties ensures all family members dedicate and prioritise the time to prepare for and work strategically on the business consistently throughout the year.

Advisory board members can be selected for a variety of reasons, but ultimately each external member should bring independence, skills or expertise that the business or family members do not have, or at a higher level to suit the needs or strategies of the business at the time. Board members do not necessarily need to have direct farming experience. You could select external board members outside of your professional advisory set, i.e. your accountant, lawyer or agronomist, and only have these advisers attend where relevant or necessary, to provide information on your farm’s position. It is often useful to include members with skills in human resource management, corporate governance, succession planning, leadership and team building, or any alternative business experience.

A key member of any successful advisory board is the Chair. The role of the Chair is to conduct structured meetings in line with a planned agenda, ensure that discussions are on topic and constructive, that all members are provided the opportunity to equally contribute while encouraging alternative and critical thinking and ideas. To reduce conflict or any prior family hierarchy, the role of the Chair is commonly filled by an external, independent person and not a friend of or member of the family group.

The advisory board is not a decision-making board, nor does it have the same legal rigours of more formal company boards. It is simply a facilitated forum to enable honest discussions between family members, incorporating the views and opinions from a mix of advisers and external parties that can change to suit your businesses requirements at the time. Ultimately, decision making and responsibility remain with the family or business owners themselves, albeit being much better informed in doing so. The structure, members and objectives of your advisory board should be customised and updated to meet the specific needs of your individual farming operation.

An advisory board takes an investment of time and money, however the benefits can be significant both financially and in sharing the stresses, responsibility and isolation of operating a modern family farming enterprise.

If you are unsure where to start with forming an advisory board, or how it could work for your business, it’s well worth making the time to discuss with other farming business you may know who use an advisory board, your current advisers or feel free to contact Perks Director, Matthew Petersen.

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