Start early for succession success

30 Jan, 2012 02:00 AM
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Tony and Judy Critch (centre) say the key to positive succession planning is to start early and involve the whole family. Also pictured (from left) are other family members Angus, Tim, Bella, Jen, Tony, Judy, Daniel, Caleb, Jay and Penny Critch.
Tony and Judy Critch (centre) say the key to positive succession planning is to start early and involve the whole family. Also pictured (from left) are other family members Angus, Tim, Bella, Jen, Tony, Judy, Daniel, Caleb, Jay and Penny Critch.

AFTER 10 years of planning, West Australian graingrower Tony Critch and his family are close to finalising their arrangements for succession, with the farming business to be handed over officially to the next generation in 2013.

Wyalong is a 14,970-hectare broadacre farm 72 kilometres east of Geraldton with an unusual history.

“My great-grandfather owned a small portion of this land back in the early 1900s but in 1930 had to walk off the farm because of the Depression,” Tony Critch said.

“In the 1950s, my father was looking for a property and unknowingly bought back that family farm.

“I’ve been here all my life and my father is still here, along with my children and their children.”

With such a rich history, it was important to Mr Critch and his four children that Wyalong continue to be managed by the family.

Having four children, however, complicated things slightly for the family as the line of succession was not clear cut.

The two older sons, Daniel and Tim, are passionate farmers and plan to remain on the farm along with their own families.

Daughter Penny and youngest son Jerome do not plan to play an active, on-site role in managing the farm.

However, Mr Critch said these children were still entitled to receive a share of the family asset.

“It’s a very delicate balance to make sure we look after the on-farm and off-farm children appropriately,” he said.

“One thing we do know for certain is that the farm is the most important thing and we need to ensure its profitability.

“We can not starve the farm of resources so we need to manage this as we go along.”

To avoid family strife and ensure the farm’s future is catered for, Tony and Judy Critch engaged the help of professionals.

“Our accountant has provided a guiding hand for us during the past 10 years while we’ve been discussing the planning,” Mr Critch said.

“Even though this is a relatively small operation, we decided to turn it into a board-run business.

“Each member of the family, including

our children’s spouses, is a member of the board.

“We employ a professional board chairman and hold quarterly meetings and yearly strategic planning meetings.

“We also use other outside, professional help whenever we need to.”

Tim Critch is happy with the board arrangement.

“We all get a say in how the farm is managed, which really spreads the load,” he said.

“In the past, the person managing the farm might have made a decision that didn’t turn out well.

“That person would feel dreadful, knowing that the responsibility for that decision rested on their shoulders alone.

“But now that we have the board set up and each person gets an equal vote, we know we all share that responsibility equally.

“It’s a good feeling.

“Because our wives get a seat and a vote on the board they feel less isolated and more an integral part of the farm as well, which is great.”

The Critches also formalised a five-year plan in early 2008 for Tony’s retirement.

“By 2013 Judy and I should become a peripheral part of the business, just helping out as needed,” Mr Critch said.

“Of course, this all depends on our health and other issues that may crop up.

“Knowing that we have a plan in place is a good start.

“Even if the plan isn’t perfect, we can modify it as we go.”

The unpredictable nature of farming means that succession planning is not always simple and cannot be set in stone.

The exchange rate, commodity prices and climate change are just a few of the many conditions that can affect the family farm.

“I’m not sure there is such a thing as a ‘traditional’ Australian farm any more,” Mr Critch said.

“I’m proud of my sons for following in my footsteps but this industry is certainly character-building.

“In some ways I would have liked them to have had an easier path.”

Tim Critch said farming was in his blood and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I looked into other professions but, in the end, farming was perfect for me.

“This succession plan gives my family

some certainty and allows us to plan for things like where to send the children to school.”

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