- DTN Headline News
Woodbury: Farm Family Business
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 4:52PM CDT

By Lance Woodbury
DTN Family Business Adviser

While I often write about succession planning and the continuation of the family enterprise, in this column I would like to address the issue of how to deal with ending a business partnership with family members. Many reasons drive relatives to split up. They may have divergent goals for the future, be frustrated over their roles in the business, have differing expectations of one another's behavior, find themselves in continual disagreement over financial issues, or be unable to move beyond past conflicts.

There are also times in one partner's life when substance abuse, financial problems or personal crises like a divorce or death of a loved one cause that partner to need or want an exit. Whatever the reason, it can feel like failure when the end is in sight, when the momentum toward an assumed level of shared success grinds to a halt.

But once you decide that getting out of business together is the right answer, how you go about the exit offers an opportunity to recast the relationship. In other words, exiting a partnership is a distinct experience, and can potentially be a better one, than the events leading to the break up. By using a collaborative and inclusive process, a family I worked with actually improved their family relationships. They are much happier, have less stress and communicate better on family issues now that they don't try to make business decisions together. That doesn't mean the process wasn't hard or at times difficult, but the way they communicated about their necessary changes led to healthier family interaction in the long run.

Here are several suggestions if you are stuck and feel that an end to the partnership may be near:


Instead of approaching the discussion as if a decision to split has already been made, view it as the exploration of several different paths. Start it as a "hypothetical" discussion by asking, "If we were to split up, how would we go about it?" There may be reasons to own some assets together, one party might buy out the other party, or the whole business might be sold and the proceeds divided. As you explore each different avenue, you will likely become more comfortable with the idea of splitting. In many cases, the parties actually become excited about their future. In other cases, people realize the costs of breaking up the business are so significant that it pushes them back to examining how they might continue working together. In either case, the important point is that you get started by exploring what-ifs.


When the issues get tough, a natural tendency is to avoid the conversation. Who wants to keep getting reminded of the fact that you can't work together? And if you dislike or distrust your business partner, pushing yourself to go to meetings that require communication can feel arduous at best, sickening at worst. In order to get to the other side, however, you must keep communicating. If you take one step at a time, and focus on solving one issue after another, you will make it. Even if you have trouble agreeing on some of the issues, you can agree to an ongoing process. In short, keep setting the next meeting date.


Splitting a business has financial, tax, legal and business management consequences. It often takes several professional disciplines to understand fully the ramifications of a significant ownership change. This is no time to skimp on paying fees to professional advisers, as mistakes can create headaches for years to come. Have your advisers at the table, and ask them to communicate and brainstorm with one another off line, so that you are not acting as a go-between translator. Above all, ask for their leadership in exploring the options. You are ultimately in control of the decision, but a coordinated team of advisers, while expensive in the short term, will ultimately be more efficient and will provide more clarity than work completed by professionals working in silos.

It is unfortunate that family business partnerships must sometimes be split, but how you deal with those circumstances provides a real chance to define your future family relationship. Agreement on, and commitment to, the process you use to explore the transition will make future dealings with one another easier.

Ending well will influence your lasting feelings not just about the decision you made but about the people involved in the decision.

Editor's Note: Lance Woodbury writes columns for both DTN and our sister publication, "The Progressive Farmer." He is a Garden City, Kansas, author, consultant and professional mediator with more than 20 years of experience specializing in agriculture and closely-held businesses. Email ideas for this column to Lance@agprogress.com


blog iconDTN Blogs & Forums
DTN Market Matters Blog
Katie Micik
Markets Editor
Monday, March 30, 2015 4:15PM CDT
Monday, March 30, 2015 4:14PM CDT
Monday, March 23, 2015 4:42PM CDT
Technically Speaking
Darin Newsom
DTN Senior Analyst
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 1:44PM CDT
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 1:12PM CDT
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 12:42PM CDT
Fundamentally Speaking
Joel Karlin
DTN Contributing Analyst
Monday, March 30, 2015 1:46PM CDT
Thursday, March 26, 2015 3:34PM CDT
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 1:46PM CDT
DTN Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 11:43AM CDT
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 11:52AM CDT
Friday, March 27, 2015 7:03PM CDT
Minding Ag's Business
Marcia Taylor
DTN Executive Editor
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 8:31PM CDT
Friday, March 27, 2015 6:25PM CDT
Thursday, March 26, 2015 3:44PM CDT
DTN Ag Weather Forum
Bryce Anderson
DTN Ag Meteorologist and DTN Analyst
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 3:18PM CDT
Monday, March 30, 2015 6:51PM CDT
Friday, March 27, 2015 7:23PM CDT
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 9:03PM CDT
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 6:02PM CDT
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 10:01PM CDT
DTN Production Blog
Pam Smith
Crops Technology Editor
Monday, March 23, 2015 7:17PM CDT
Tuesday, March 17, 2015 5:30PM CDT
Monday, February 23, 2015 6:43PM CDT
Harrington's Sort & Cull
John Harrington
DTN Livestock Analyst
Monday, March 23, 2015 9:25PM CDT
Friday, February 27, 2015 9:05PM CDT
Friday, February 20, 2015 5:15PM CDT
South America Calling
Alastair Stewart
South America Correspondent
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 10:46PM CDT
Monday, March 30, 2015 11:56AM CDT
Thursday, March 26, 2015 4:16PM CDT
An Urban’s Rural View
Urban Lehner
Editor Emeritus
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 12:01PM CDT
Monday, March 23, 2015 11:12AM CDT
Monday, March 16, 2015 12:34PM CDT
Machinery Chatter
Jim Patrico
Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Wednesday, March 25, 2015 3:53PM CDT
Monday, March 16, 2015 7:28PM CDT
Monday, March 9, 2015 7:34PM CDT
Canadian Markets
Cliff Jamieson
Canadian Grains Analyst
Wednesday, April 1, 2015 10:06PM CDT
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 11:10PM CDT
Monday, March 30, 2015 10:14PM CDT
Editor’s Notebook
Greg D. Horstmeier
DTN Editor-in-Chief
Tuesday, March 31, 2015 6:59PM CDT
Friday, March 27, 2015 2:34PM CDT
Tuesday, March 17, 2015 8:14PM CDT
Copyright DTN. All rights reserved. Disclaimer.
Powered By DTN