When, how, indeed whether to hand on the family farm to the next generation are some of the biggest dilemmas facing Australian agriculture.

Story By Amanda Burdon

John and Helen McKemey are a contented couple. They continue to live in their family homestead, near Guyra, in northern New South Wales, have made comfortable provision for their retirement and their three children are astutely managing the properties they spent a lifetime developing. McKemey and Company, and the family relationships upon which it is founded, is thriving. “We didn’t have any expectations that our children would return to the family business, but we feel honoured that they have taken it on,” 64-year-old John says. “To satisfy the needs of two sons and a daughter who all wanted to pursue a life on the land has been challenging but we have maintained family harmony throughout the succession process. I feel very confident that they will do the right thing by one another, the land and the business.”
Helen is proud of the way the McKemeys have navigated the sometimes treacherous waters of succession. “Everyone has taken ownership of the goals we have set because they had input into them,” she says. “This has made succession a very pleasant experience as we work together to meet the needs of our maturing family members and their ever-growing families.”
What John and Helen recognised very early on was that tertiary-educated Dan, Hannah and David each brought home different ideas, skills and ambitions. “We set about designing roles and responsibilities suited to their different personalities and needs, so that they can flourish and we can create the best outcomes for everyone,” Helen says. “They demonstrated a commitment and level of initiative that gave John and I confidence, so we put the systems in place so that they could each make their own contributions. When people are enjoying what they do, success will come, but maintaining good family relationships is our ultimate goal.”
Having off-farm investments and superannuation in place gave John and Helen a degree of freedom and independence to begin implementing their succession plan. They formalised the process in consultation with succession advisor Sean Martyn over many months, putting in place systems such as regular business and monthly management meetings, a business strategy, and policies for everything from remuneration to animal health. The McKemey siblings each have independent businesses to control within the company – managing the farm itself, off-farm investments and a contracting enterprise – and each has a job title and description.

This story excerpt is from Issue #76

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2011