By Maggie Hulstein
My father worked on the farm for as long as I can remember. He always came home filthy, his faded Wrangler jeans covered in manure, possibly a little blood and always dust. I knew he worked extremely hard. Sitting in church, I would pick at the decade-old calluses that covered his palms. I recognized that he worked to provide for our family of six; we lived comfortably, and I was never denied $20 for the Cinema 5. But not until I was 17 did I fully realize the depth of the family's commitment to the farm.
My family's company, Bar K Cattle, began holding shareholder meetings in late 2011. The company is owned by three of the four Hulstein brothers, Kirk, Kelly and Kraig (my father). They have a total of 11 children; I am the youngest. The meetings at first were relatively informational but quickly turned into business meetings. Most of us were hearing these facts and figures for the first time, but there were a few, like my brother and some cousins, who already worked for the farm.
I learned that "the Brothers," as they would come to be called, had been waiting to begin holding these meetings, but changes in tax laws had forced their hand. It became clear that the Brothers did not want their kids to simply profit off the success of the company; they wanted them involved or, at least, well informed. The most important goal was for us to prepare for the future. As a result we developed a quarterly policy board that would help structure a contingency plan.
The policy board consisted of the three Brothers, familial representatives, a mediator and uncle Kembe, who was the youngest of the original Hulstein brothers. There were eight votes: one for each Hulstein brother, one for each of the three families, as represented by at least two children, and one for the mediator. We decided that for a policy to pass we needed at least six votes. We discussed such things as how a share would be sold, what would happen in the case of a divorce, what the hiring process would be for a shareholder and, most important, what would happen if a Brother died.
The company was structured as a Defective Grantor Trust. As with most farms, we were heavy on assets, like tractors, cattle and land, but short on cash. We wanted to make sure that when a Brother died, his heirs wouldn't lose half their inheritance to the government through taxes. What followed was detailed maneuvering of paperwork and a lot of signing on the dotted line. I was entirely overwhelmed.
But I also felt a swell of pride. My father and his brothers had built a business from the ground up. They were working to make advancements in cattle handling and feeding. They had done all this without being prideful and giving credit to the blessings of God. I wanted to be involved, but my dad knew agriculture wasn't in my heart. He told me he would rather I be happy and not directly involved in the company than miserable and in it. So I followed my gut and moved to California for college, where I am majoring in English.
My involvement with the farm has been largely informational. But my experiences with my family and in the boardroom have given me a confidence to speak openly and calmly about conflicting ideas. Entering into a family business in any way can be terrifying, and the process of moving a business from one generation to the next is difficult. My father always told me that I had a choice; I could choose to be a part of what he had built or build something of my own. Ultimately, I would choose the latter. But the freedom my father gave me in choosing makes me respect and want to honor what he built in a way that I would not have otherwise.
My father's legacy is my own, and though it looks different for me, it has the same origin of commitment, Jesus and a strong gut.
Maggie Hulstein is an undergraduate student at Biola University.
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