When fresh eyes deliver business benefits
Battling one of the worst droughts in memory may not be the usual circumstances for opening up your business and your lives to a group of strangers, but this courage and initiative has reaped benefits for Vicki and Mike Stevens and their 3500 acre mixed farm business south of Wagga Wagga.
“We were in the middle of a shocking drought and were just hanging in there. We knew we had to take some big steps to think about our business in a different way if we were to have a long-term future in farming”, Vicki said.
Eight years ago, on a recommendation from friends, the Stevens joined the not-for-profit group Ag EDGE. Ag EDGE is comprised of a number of unofficial ‘boards of directors’ which provide a peer review function, delivering practical and professional input into each board member’s business.
“In the beginning, our Board was quite diverse and we weren’t quite sure how our business experience would relate. We soon realized that, even though there were large differences in the nature and scale of what we did, we were all there with the same desire to make a positive change in our business and we were all operating businesses. Full stop. The best thing was that everyone viewed our business problems and issues with completely fresh eyes, which made us reassess our weaknesses, as well as come up with different solutions”, she said.
Ag EDGE meet face-to-face up to four times each year and maintain regular contact in between meetings. Face-to-face meetings are professionally facilitated and each meeting is used to review each member’s business performance or progress towards their goals.
“Joining Ag EDGE refocussed us on the business. It made us really look at the way we planned the business and the goals that we wanted to achieve in the longer-term. None of these discussions are easy, but having those supportive people around the table really made us clarify what we wanted to do, and importantly, it made us accountable to follow through”, Mrs Stevens said today.
Like many other farming families, the Stevens were in the early stages of succession planning discussions when they joined Ag EDGE. “We felt we already had good, open lines of communication in our family, and the skills and knowledge around our Ag EDGE board table really built on that. We could draw on other members’ experience in this area and understand what not to do as we worked our way through the process. To have those types of highly sensitive and emotional discussions in a neutral and totally confidential forum, was invaluable”, Vicki said today.
The Stevens are now towards the end of their succession planning journey with the next generation preparing to take up the business reins.
They will be leaving Ag EDGE this year. Saying goodbye to her Ag EDGE Board Vicki commented that, “the Board members we have been involved with for the past eight years have been a constant source of inspiration. They have motivated us to drive our core business and have always encouraged us to look outside the square for development opportunities on all levels. Our vision and goals that seemed like pure fantasy all those years ago have begun to fall in place with our business, and we are taking a new and exciting direction”.
Positive outcomes from stepping outside the comfort zone and sharing insight and experience.