The Daniels family realized they needed a family council to help them transfer their 255-year-old business from the seventh to the eighth generation. The family council, now in its second iteration, has helped family members to make decisions.
Normandy Farms in Foxborough, Mass., dates all the way back to 1759. Founder Francis Daniels, a French army officer (born François Guideau) who had been taken prisoner by a colonial privateer and brought to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, purchased the farmland. In 1971, in response to declining profitability of the family farm, Daniels' descendants established a campground on the site. Today Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort operates 400 campsites and generates $2.5 million in annual revenues.
The campground accommodates RVs, cabins, yurts and tents. Its amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, a Frisbee golf course, a volleyball court, a basketball court, a fishing pond, a dog park with an obstacle course, and biking and hiking trails, plus a 20,000-square-foot recreation lodge with a fitness center.
At the dawn of the 21st century, as the Daniels family began to plan the transition from the seventh to the eighth generation, the road to succession was as rocky as the New England terrain. Personality differences among family members erupted into arguments.
With the help of a consultant, the family formed a family council in 2000. The experience helped them identify big-picture issues, but the family lacked the commitment to work through disagreements and envision a shared future.
After a five-year hiatus, the family revived its family council in 2011. The council's resurrection was spurred by the next-generation members' desire to move forward with transition planning and collaborate more productively with their elders.
"Ten years ago, the family council was run by the senior generation," says eighth-generation member Marcia Galvin, the human resources director. "Now, it's run by our generation."
Forming a family council
The transformation of the family farm—which had raised 10,000 chickens and 400 sheep—into a campground stemmed from the family's resolve to keep the land in the family and preserve it as green space at a time when other farmers were selling their land to developers.
Seventh-generation member Albert Daniels, Normandy Farms' president, said the change in the business model started with "a business school project I did in college," which was inspired by his parents' love of camping. "I developed the pro formas for turning our farm into a campground," Albert says.
At the time, Albert's brother Bobby was in the service. Their sister, Janis, worked as a waitress. "After Bobby's stints in Vietnam, he helped develop the campground," Albert recalls. "After it got it off the ground, Janis came into the business. Then the three of us ran it from then on." Their parents were involved but were nearing retirement age. "I don't think there was any real thought that camping would be our only business," Albert says. "We just thought it would help us keep the farm. But by 1975 or 1976 we were almost all out of farming."
The Daniels family started their family council with the help of a family business consultant they met at a camping association conference in 2000. The family members who worked in the business at the time were the current owners (Albert Daniels, now 69; his brother Bobby Daniels, 66; their sister, Janis Daniels Pendergast, 60; and Albert's wife, Doris Daniels, 68) as well as Albert's daughters, Marcia Galvin, 49, now human resources director; and Kristine (Krissy) Daniels, 39, now marketing director; and Bobby's children, Shaun and Andrea, neither of whom works in the business today.
Albert describes the decision making from the mid-1970s through 2000 as a collective process. "There was no specific chain of command," he says. "Everyone pitched in. There was no real division of labor or titles." For the most part, it worked; the farm and, later, the campground ran relatively smoothly.
"Each family member would make decisions for their own children in the business," Marcia recalls. "There was a lot of animosity about, 'Why is this person getting this and that person not?' There was not a lot of equality."
Also, the younger generation realized that they needed their parents to write down information they held in their heads, such as the layout of the electric lines throughout the 100-acre campgrounds, so that if anything happened to the parents, there'd be no disruption in operations. Some members of the younger generation harbored concerns about distribution of property to some cousins, a decision that had not been discussed as a family.
At the first family council meeting, the family sat at a round table, Marcia remembers. "We had huge sticky notes to write about issues. Everyone had their own agendas. We weren't working together. There were a lot of tears, a lot of tension. My Uncle Bob's family sat together; my family was sitting together. That was our comfort zone. The agenda was to talk about what the issues were, build more communications, look at the future and identify who wants to do what, and when. My father wanted to retire at age 63, my aunt at age 60."
The end of the first meeting was "a little awkward," Marcia says. "There was a lot of communication, but not all in a positive form. There were tears and frustration, but it peeled away a layer of our comfort zone. We worked through it."
Bobby says the experience helped the senior generation view their children as business partners. "Being in a partnership is tough. Being in a partnership with children is tougher," he notes.
Bobby describes the members of his generation as "doers" and notes that they were the ones who built the campgrounds. "We didn't have a lot of time for meetings," he says. "The meetings came out of the next generation wanting to get into the business. But I think it's a good thing, trying to teach an old dog new tricks."
The process helped family members interact with each other in a more productive way, Marcia says. "It's hard to peel away all the barriers and get to the core without feeling you were being personally attacked. It made us move forward."
The consultant suggested that the cousins plan how they would work together and challenged them to begin creating documents and processes. "We didn't get too far," Marcia admits.
Although family council meetings were held regularly, Marcia says, as time went on, family members fell back into their comfort zones and often got off topic. "We'd meet, and it would get so ugly, we'd decide it wasn't even worth meeting anymore," she says.
"I don't know if we were ready to have a council at that point," Marcia reflects. "We were just starting to look at the big picture. We hadn't gotten to that point yet."
During that time Bobby's daughter, who worked in the culinary end of the business for a while, decided she didn't want to be part of it. Now she's a stay-at-home mom. "We did make a lot of positive changes," Marcia says. "We just got lazy and busy."
After a while, according to Marcia's recollection, the family realized they had reverted back to their former unproductive communication styles. "One day we said, 'This is crazy; we're back to where we were before,' " she says. At that point, the Daniels family council fell by the wayside. No council meetings were held between 2006 and 2011.
About three years ago the Daniels family decided they needed to breathe new life into their family council. Again, individuals were unilaterally making decisions, which irked the family members who had not been consulted.
They started from scratch with a family business adviser based closer to them, David Karofsky of Transition Consulting Group in Framingham, Mass. Karofsky met with family members individually to identify key issues, which he saw as communication and leadership succession. In the process, he helped the family customize a 19-point code of conduct (see sidebar). Each family council meeting would have an agenda, and a time frame for each item on the agenda, Marcia says.
A discussion that Albert describes as a turning point began with the senior generation telling the next generation, "This is the deal: If you want to take over the business, you have to work 24/7—do like we did for the last 30 to 40 years." But, Albert notes, "That took the younger generation aback. Our generation lives to work; the next generation works to enjoy life."
The younger generation responded with a counterproposal. Among their suggestions was to close for the winter season. Even though there's not much demand for camping in a Massachusetts winter, Normandy Farms had been open for all four seasons since its conversion into a campground.
"At first I thought it was a fantastic idea," says Bobby. "I don't have to be out snow plowing [or] sanding." However, Bobby admits, he had to change his belief that the next-generation members should have to endure the rigors of the winter season simply because his generation did so. Eventually, he reflects, his attitude softened. "My father and mother did things differently than my generation did," he acknowledges. "They had their woes about our generation."
"Family always takes less salary and does any jobs that need to be done," Janis says. "I manage a staff of 30; hire, train, handle reservations [and] guest service; and do conflict resolution. It's a lot of work. It's why we need to rest in winter."
"You have to give everyone a chance to make changes on their own and reinvent the family business," adds Albert.
Per the younger generation's suggestion, Normandy Farms closed for the winters of 2012-13 and 2013-14. Krissy says she is analyzing the cost savings against the lost revenue to determine whether the campground should continue to close during the winters.
Another topic the family council has discussed in depth is whether to invest in a new online reservation system. "That was a big-money decision," says Marcia. "One person didn't want to make that decision without having everyone on board and without some research behind it. That was one of the first things that came to the group. We brought it to the family council and hashed it out."
Krissy notes that the family council has helped achieve buy-in for major decisions among the campground's staff, which consists of 120 seasonal and 20 year-round employees. "Having the family council is a support that gets other departments on board," Krissy says.
Today, the senior generation has begun to step back, Marcia notes. "They're still in charge," she says, "but they're not involved in the decision making as much."
"Normandy came to us proactively, as about half our clients do today," consultant Karofsky says. Five years ago, he says, 70% of his firm's clients sought consulting help to resolve a crisis that had already occurred. "The younger generation is more open," Karofsky says. "They are encouraging their parents to address this stuff proactively. Normandy is great example of this, and they are shattering the statistics about family business survival."
"It's Kumbaya at times," says Bobby Daniels. "But hard questions have to be asked.
"The biggest thing was, each generation thinks it knows how to run the business better," Bobby says. "That's a hard thing to give up. It's hard to realize this thing [the family business] is going to go on without us. The fact is, it's going to happen. You've got to let them [the next-generation members] decide what to do and how to do it."
Jayne A. Pearl is a freelance writer, editor and speaker. She is co-author, with Richard A. Morris, of Kids, Wealth, and Consequences (Bloomberg, a Wiley imprint, 2010; www.kwandc.com), and a new series of guidebooks, including Kids and Money Guide to Learning Capital (ALLL Right Books, 2012; www.kidsandmoney.com).
Normandy Farms Family Council Code of Conduct
1. Give immediate positive and negative feedback to each other.
2. Speak directly to each other and not triangulate [bring a third party into a disagreement between two people].
3. Be receptive to feedback.
4. Cut each other some slack and give the benefit of the doubt.
5. Be respectful.
6. Keep personal calls to a minimum.
7. Communicate the importance of a call when leaving a voicemail.
8. Use common sense when determining when to return voicemails and make every effort to return business calls the same day.
9. Return e-mails within 24 hours.
10. Not use phones or radios during meetings.
11. Donate $20 to the Jimmy Fund [which supports Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute] if we are late to meetings. [So far, no one has been late.]
12. Meet commitments on time.
13. Communicate expectations.
15. Resist fixing blame on people.
16. Not assume.
17. Look for the positive in people.
18. Ask questions directly when we need help.
19. Raise violations of the code of conduct at weekly meetings with the groups
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