Woodbury: Farm Family Business
Lance Woodbury DTN Farm Business Adviser
Mon Nov 17, 2014 10:36 AM CST
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Editor's Note: Lance Woodbury writes for both DTN and our sister publication, The Progressive Farmer. He is a Garden City, Kan., author, consultant and professional mediator specializing in agriculture and closely-held businesses and a featured speaker at a pre-Ag Summit DTN University workshop on retirement Dec. 7 in Chicago. For details go to or…. To pose questions for this column email

Omaha billionaire investor Warren Buffet encouraged his children to follow their passions in life, guidance that gave them independence despite his big shadow. (Photo by Mark Hirschey, Creative Commons License)

This past month, I had the opportunity to hear Peter Buffett, a son of investor Warren Buffett, speak at a conference for family business consultants. I've also heard his other son, Howard, at a DTN conference, as well as Warren himself at Berkshire Hathaway meetings.

Hearing three family members speak independently of one another on separate topics, I was struck by a few common themes that apply to any family, including the context of families-in-business. In contrast to the oft-referred "Buffett Rule" proposed by President Barack Obama regarding taxes, the three rules that follow are long-term principles that contribute to successful family relationships.


Peter said that discovering who you are is the ultimate definition of success. Each Buffett family member appears to have found one or more activities for which they are passionate and is a part of their identity. For Peter, it is music; for Howard, it is photography and farming; and for Warren, it is finding opportunity in undervalued companies. They do other things, too, like advocate for food security, invest in philanthropy, play bridge, or empower girls and young women. But they have found ways to incorporate what they love to do into, or have made it, their life's work.

I know many agriculture family business members who have passion for farming or ranching, but I've also met family members who are unsatisfied with their role in, or focus on, the business. They feel burdened by the pressure or expectations their family members have for them. They don't feel supported in pursing their true calling, which Peter said was one of the greatest gifts from his father and mother -- the encouragement for him and his siblings to find their voice. Are you, in your role, being true to your passion and identity?

When asked why Peter and his dad had a good relationship, Peter replied, "The reason... is we've never asked each other to be something we're not." In other words, they knew and respected each other for who they were, even if that meant working in another field, spending or giving money away to different causes, or living in different places.


Peter showed a number of pictures as part of his presentation, one of them being a report card demonstrating Warren having less-than-perfect grades in school. Peter's point was that the report card by the school was someone else's metric -- a teacher's or society's -- not Warren's. Clearly grades do not predict success, but the bigger point is to identify your own notion of success. What are "your" grading criteria?

The confidence to judge success by your standards, and not by others' measurements, is key to healthy individuals and ultimately healthy relationships. Societies and communities and professional environments all want to define you by what you've accumulated, how much you make or leave behind, how well you did on a test, or who you know or how fast or high you climbed a ladder. In agriculture's era of big data, business benchmarking and key financial ratios, it's easy to get hung up with other people's definition of success.

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