Joining the Family: Attributes to support integration into a family farm business

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Executive summary

Family farming businesses contribute to a large proportion of the total number of agricultural businesses in New Zealand. But given the level of their significance very little focus is put on how family businesses function to remain harmonious, strengthen and grow. The small amount talked about is largely focused on governance and succession planning and predominately from the perspective of the older generation. This report looks at the family business from a different angle, that of a new family member joining a family business as a daughter or son in-law to understand what attributes are required to successfully integrate into a family farm business.

Initial research and articles relating to in-law integration into a family business identified that limited attention especially in a farming context has been placed on the role and impact both to the individual, family and business but recognised it was a unique and challenging position. Further reading specific to in-law relationships in an overseas farming context followed by identification of factors that contribute to effective and happy families influenced my direction and focus. The aspects needed by the individual daughter or son in-law and how the overall family functions.

The true learning really happened at the interview stage when four family members and three professionals shared their experiences, knowledge and insight into what contributed to smooth integration. Many of the research themes were echoed by the participants but what really stood out was the commitment required and that integrating into a family business is a journey that one is on for a life time. Becoming part of a family and business is a constant evolution and involves continual learning and application.

For that reason, the attributes which have been identified in this report are timeless and can be adopted at any stage of the journey. At the heart is to remain values focused – living a life aligned to what is important to you. Second, to maintain a strong and connected spouse relationship. From there stems prioritising understanding time, developing conversational confidence, remaining agile, practicing self-care, having fun and being creative and recognising change can start with you.

The attributes of joining a family business are aimed at supporting those assuming the daughter or son in-law role but to achieve a truly harmonious integration into a family business it takes commitment from all the family members. I there for believe many if not all these attributes are worthy of attention by all kinfolk involved.
My wish is this report ignites a willingness to create a culture that focuses on commitment, support and encouragement towards and within family farm businesses to ensure they remain sustainable and harmonious now and for future generations.
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