Picture1On June 7, Davis Wright Tremaine hosted its annual Farm To Label event at the Nines Hotel in Portland, Oregon.

The event was an unqualified success, drawing hundreds of registered guests, including industry experts, business owners and operators and funding sources of all kinds.

We were proud to hear attendees and participants alike once again refer to it as one of the premiere West Coast gatherings for the food and beverage industry.

 

Among the break-out panels during the afternoon event was a session entitled, “(Not) All in the Family“. Moderated by Davis Wright Tremaine attorney Drew Steen, the panel consisted of two individuals who held top executive positions in successful family owned businesses, but did not belong to the family.  Dirk Davis is the CEO of Sunshine Dairy, a successful and long-standing dairy business out of Portland, Oregon. Art Anderson is the general manager and COO of J. Frank Schmidt & Son, one of the top three tree farms in the United States.  Each is a multi-generational family business and neither Dirk nor Art is a member of the family that owns the businesses they are running.

 

Dirk and Art were truly outstanding in their presentation. And, while they had different individual stories, worked in different industries and had different mandates from their business’ owners, the similarities in their perspectives were striking.  They each spoke to the distinction between management and ownership in a small business.  They discussed the patience required in dealing with a family business from the outside, but the also unique rewards of participating in a team that has the bonds that come with a multi-generational family enterprise.  They noted that, in many ways, because of their status as an outsider to the owning family, they were the only ones who could unite differing family factions.  They were the only ones who could earn and keep everyone’s trust and, as a result, were the only ones who could make the hard decisions on behalf of the business.

 

Ultimately, the notion of management versus ownership is something every closely held business needs to deal with. Even without a family dynamic, there are always founders and newcomers, insiders and outsiders.  And the perspective of the value the right outsider could bring was refreshing.

 

Bill Weigand provides strategic counsel to businesses, particularly in the food, agribusiness, manufacturing, and distribution industries. Many of Bill’s clients are multi-generational, family-owned businesses. He takes the time to learn the nuances of each client’s business and tailors his advice accordingly. Contact Bill at 206.757.8164 or BillWeigand@dwt.com.