Pride emanates from Barry and Kent as they listen to their sons’ comments about joining the family operation.
“It’s definitely gratifying that this is an operation the kids wanted to come back to and be part of,” Barry says. “It’s messy having family come back, but it’s been well worth it. There are challenges in getting to know everyone’s personality and having everyone feel comfortable about their role. It needs to be maximized for the company and also for themselves.”
Kent agrees it’s rewarding to have the next generation be part of the business, and to know it’s in good hands in the future. More importantly, he’s happy they each decided on their own to be part of the business.
“In everyone’s case, we had specific needs when they came back,” Kent says. “We told them what they were going to do, but the jobs were tailored to their individual strengths.”
Short meetings take place every Monday afternoon, and whomever is there will review for the group what has happened the prior week and make plans for the current week. Members of the younger generation have their own meetings to discuss important issues and determine what needs to be done.
Quarterly board meetings are held, too, with everyone present.
In 2006, Kent and Barry began transferring some of the corporation’s shares to the next generation, and it’s been a work in progress for the past 12 years.
"We’ve been taking advantage of gifting and using our exemptions to transfer shares to the kids,” he says. “As of today, all the kids have ownership.[It’s still in trust for some—they get the benefits but they can’t buy or sell the stock]. Kent’s and my positions are down to 15% each, and we’ve worked really hard at making that happen.”
Barry has three other children who are not in the business. They are treated equally, though they’re not on the payroll. Kent and Barry follow the line with a 50/50 split for each of their respective families.
“We do have a buy-sell in place,” Barry says. “If anybody wants to get out, they can sell their portion of the stocks.”
Mike Tokach, professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry at Kansas State University, has worked with the Holdens for many years on nutrition and production projects.
“We really enjoy working with Holden Farms because of the people leading the organization,” Tokach says. “They have made the family transition as successfully as I have seen it done in agriculture. Kent and Barry have worked hard to make the transition as seamless as possible.”
The senior Holdens say it was much different when they were younger.
“Through high school and even college, in our free time or vacations, it was just expected that you would work on the farm,” Kent says. “We both participated in sports in high school, but other than that we were working on the farm.”
“Our dad was farming alone,” Barry says. “Kids are kids, but we were also employees. He wanted someone to help him with the work. I felt guilty if I wasn’t helping him, and it was harder to break away. I insisted to all my children, make sure you do what you want to do. Life is too short not to, and don’t feel obligated to come back. Clearly, it was their choice.”
“We brought in a lot of people but we recognized we needed to decide for ourselves internally the best direction to go with the business,” Kent says. “At a point in time, we said ‘These guys can give all the advice they want, but we know the issues and what we need to do.’ We continue to do that today. There are still challenges that come up and we have to figure out how to deal with them on an interpersonal basis, and that’s the way it will always be.
“We try to do the right thing and so far, it has worked out very well,” Kent adds. “When we decide to do something everyone comes on board. The next generation has done a good job of understanding that.”
“Holden Farms has always had great leadership and they have focused on key drivers of profitability,” Tokach says. “Throughout their history, they have been a low-cost producer with a focus on throughput and pig numbers with high quality people in key management roles and on the farms.”
Kent and Barry agree it’s been fun to see the business become what it is today.
“We didn’t start out with a grand plan to get to “x” number of pigs, but opportunities came around and presented themselves, and they still do.”
Holden Farms: Secure Transfer to the Fifth Generation