Farm Succession Planning Gets A Boost From An Ethical Will

This article is from the Top Producer 2019 Executive Women in Agriculture Conference. Learn more about the 2020 EWA Conference agenda and register here:

Thirteen years ago, Mitzi Perdue says an experience changed the trajectory of her life.

At a meeting of wealthy, high-profile people who belong to what she describes as the “Famous Last Names Club,” she heard nearly everyone share a story about how they weren’t getting along with their family. Perdue, who grew up as part of the Sheraton hotel family, the Hendersons, and later married Frank Perdue, the poultry giant, was puzzled.

“I couldn’t really relate,” she recalls. Both of her families had been what she describes as high functioning. Plus, their respective businesses had thrived through multiple generations, an unlikely feat given that 70% of family businesses don’t survive beyond the first generation.

“I started studying why some families are high-functioning and others are not,” she recalls. “Why do some families want to help each other be all they can be?”

That question sent her on a quest during the next decade to find the answer. She read books, she attended conferences, she watched programs on YouTube and talked with tens of experts.

Her conclusion, she notes, could be summed up in one word: culture.

“Culture is a road map that guides us in what’s right or wrong,” she says. “The families that don’t [succeed] left their culture to accident. The strong ones invest in and teach their children values.”

She shared three things with attendees at the 2019 Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA) Conference that she says saved both of her families and their thriving businesses through the years.

“We keep our quarrels in the family,” she says. “We know that being part of a family requires sacrifice. Relationships are more important than money—what good is it to succeed financially but fall apart as a family?”

Along with those three factors, she says the Perdue family made five additional decisions that it continues to use. She recommends these to help other families that are wanting to survive and thrive in the future. They are:
1.    Create an ethical will
2.    Encourage and cherish traditions
3.    Have awards that reinforce your culture
4.    Write newsletters just for children
5.    Produce a “What It Means to Be Us” book

Upon his death in 2005, her husband, Frank Perdue, left the following “ethical will” for his children and grandchildren, which she says the family still uses today. It reads:
1. Be honest always.
2. Be a person whom others are justified in trusting.
3. If you say you will do something, do it.
4. You don’t have to be the best, but you should be the best you can be.
5. Treat all people with courtesy and respect, no exceptions.
6. Remember that the way to be happy is to think of what you can do for others.
7. Be part of something bigger than yourself.
8. Remember that hard work is satisfying and fulfilling.
9. Nurture the ability to laugh and have fun.
10. Have respect for those who have gone before; learn from their weaknesses and build on their strengths.

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