Topic Outlines

Wittman Consulting provides lectures or workshops on topics related to financial management, management accounting, process improvement, family business governance, conflict resolution and succession planning.  The following are sample descriptions and workshop outlines that can be adapted based on audience focus and time allotments.

⊕  NEW: Training for Retired Agriculture CEOs

Retirement in agriculture today is not the same as it was 50 years ago. Decades ago, farm proprietors reached age 65, retired on modest social security, and generally sold their business and/or leased farm assets to their successors, leaving work and farm financial investment worries behind. Today, retirement transition is much more complex, leaving CEOs asking: How can I become an effective retired CEO? Are there others facing the same challenges?

This program offers a conference custom fit for retired, or soon-to-be retired CEOs or general managers.

Target Audience

  • Retired or soon-to-be retired CEOs or general managers
    • still vested in the business as board member/chair, transition coach, mentor
    • still invested in business as an owner or contributor of operational assets
  • Consulting professionals coaching clients on transition planning

Agenda Topics

  • Making the transition – extending your career past CEO
  • Developing the role and functions of an owner board
    • Extending the career path from CEO to Board Chairman – why?
    • Strategic planning – making this a more robust board function
    • Avoiding micro-management – do’s and don’ts in the transition
    • Setting board policy – what is board chair’s role in leading this function?
    • Defining growth strategy – do you have one; how is it defined?
    • Defining family business employment policy
    • Defining family business investment policy
    • Who do you place on your farm owner board?
    • Building effective board meeting agendas
    • Evaluating your CEO – participant sharing on how this is being handled
  • Panel discussion – how well is the board functioning in your business as part of your governance structure?
  • Panel discussion – evaluating employees vs. general manager vs. board itself
  • Panel of retired CEOs discussing their experiences (good and bad) in transition
    • Making the transition – does and don’ts
    • Differentiating role as employee vs. investor – how does this dynamic change after transition; and where is the accountability flow post-retirement?
  • How does job description change post-CEO; and how do I fill out my “dance card”?
  • What is your succession plan for your Professional Advisory Team?
    • What areas of expertise do you currently staff: Accounting, legal, insurance, wealth management, family business dynamics, etc.?
    • Who should be initiating review of talent, recruitment of backup/continuity?
  • Where should the ‘company office” be located after retirement? Where do I go now??
  • How is your ‘company culture’ defined; and how does the board chair leverage this?
  • Financial Planning
    • What will I live on after retirement?
    • How much should I keep vs. give away and when?
    • Where are you with your Personal Financial Plan – how does this differ from and/or integrate with the farm’s ownership transition plan and your estate plan?
  • Management Audits
    • Chairman’s role in designing and executing a management audit to inventory governance processes – participant experiences in implementing this practice
    • Using the audit process to evaluate how best to evolve management and governance structures as transitions occur
    • Structuring annual reviews/follow-up
  • Evaluating potential next steps in evolving governance structures
    • Implications of multi-entity operations for governing bodies
    • Governing council vs. owner boards
    • Family council
    • Setting up family business philanthropic foundations
  • Next Steps – Exploring demand for peer groups of retired CEOs for networking; what models need to be considered in the future for sharing experiences?

  Managing Business Relationships & Transitions in Multi-Family Farm Operations

Business practices and relationship problems, not economic issues, are often the reason family operations dissolve business relationships. This tragic conclusion generally stems from operators failing to run the farm like a business, rather than a family venture. Farms with good production and financial footings still fail because they either don’t know the basic rules of conducting a business, or they know the rules, but don’t apply them to family farm operations.

This seminar tackles a number of sensitive issues that relate to managing family businesses. It is presented from the viewpoint of a working family farm manager who has also provided family farm business transition consulting for over twenty years. The seminar combines serious and humorous discussions of basic principles, actual farm problems and practical, successful solutions.

1. Introduction: “These family deals never last!” …is this opinion destiny or a choice?

  • Benefits of multiple parties working together
  • Common problems that arise in relationships and six specific causes
  • Defining a “Management System”—”What is more important…process or results?

2. Organization and Division of Responsibility

  • “What is my piece of the pie?” Who will make the decisions and implement them?
  • Techniques for defining specific roles and dividing responsibility
  • Considerations in bringing new principals into the operation, or retiring others—ownership vs. responsibility
  • Using job descriptions as a tool in transition situations

3. Company Policies: “The Hidden Land Mines”

  • Establishing clear policy understandings: housing, room and board, insurance, compensation, division of earnings, buyout agreements, business benefit continuation, capital injections and withdrawals, inter-entity transactions, work days/hours/leave policies
  • Common sins that violate good business practices— “…on the neighbor’s farm, of course!”
  • Sample policies and guidelines for developing policy statements
  • “What am I worth per hour to this business?” Understanding the “Hidden Benefits”—How are non-cash benefits valued when structuring “Compensation Packages” for employees, partners or business principals?
  • Should benefit come through the farm, or should each owner be personally responsible? “Do I base policy on optimum tax and economic considerations…or political, personal or other criteria?”

4. Planning

  • Who gets to play in the game, provide input, implement and monitor the plan?
    Operational vs. Strategic Planning—what issues should be addressed and why are they important to document?
  • Operating issues—production, marketing, financing, personnel, capital items…systems that work!
    Long Range/Strategic Issues—transfers of management and ownership; expansion; major improvements; enterprise shifts; manpower planning; business structuring… “Three reasons farmers avoid strategic planning”
  • “I know it’s important…just didn’t know where to start!” Strategies for making progress on strategic issues.

5. Communication, Coordination and Control

  • Business tools often ignored or abused—meetings, farm records, documentation of key business understandings… “Don’t let them know there is money in the bank!”… “We’ll remember what we agreed on!”…
  • The “I can’t be fired…” family business syndrome. Impact of unprofessional communication habits.
    Developing corporate climate of openness and professionalism…”How do mission and core value statements work?”
  • “You want to evaluate me?…you must be kidding!” Should family business partners/employees be evaluated? How?
  • What performance gauges do you watch? Tractor gauges and monitors or your financial gauges?

6. Summary: The Basic Business Management Model Applies to Agriculture, Too!

  • The family farm business… a constant transition of inheriting and passing on values…then letting go of the wheel!
  • The FARM—Your Child’s “First Business School”…Are you teaching good business principles or bad habits?

⊕  Train-the-Trainer Seminar for Targeted Clients and Consulting Professionals

The Train-the-Trainer workshop is designed for consulting professionals interested in honing skills and delivery methods for advising family farm business clients in implementing successful transitions and incorporating professional governance systems and structures in commercially complex family farm businesses.

This program can be delivered as a stand-alone workshop only, or in two parts with an introductory seminar for family farm business clients and a companion Train-the-Trainer session the following day for professionals advising family farm business clients.

  1. Review Five Stage Consulting Process & Primary Tools Used in Each Stage:
    • creating awareness of need for consulting assistance
    • negotiating the relationship
    • building the client profile
    • forming preliminary conclusions, recommendations and action plan
    • problem resolution & ongoing support
  2. Creating transparency on what you are providing as a “deliverable product” from the engagement; focus on benefits from advising process versus product sale
  3. Using Personality Profile Tools to promote professional communication
  4. Coaching clients on how to make optimal use of engagement results
  5. Alternative strategies for implementing recommendations and using facilitators
  6. Communicating to prospective clients the cost/benefit relationships of investing in this process
  7. How to price your consulting services & build a collaborative team of advisors
  8. Setting up family meetings to start the conversation
  9. Case study illustrations on how to conduct Management Audits
  10. Coaching clients on how to form and facilitate client peer groups
  11. Setting up and administering your own consulting service website
  12. Technical Topics – these sessions give participants hands-on discussion on how to use and personalize tools, exhibits, and templates in the guidebook and consulting process
    • Administering the Management Proficiency Test – Ag & Commercial versions
    • Pre-vetting template
    • Engagement Letter & Engagement Outline (1st meeting discussion outline)
    • Consulting Agreement & Fee structure options
    • Proficiency Test, Questionnaire and Compensation Summary
    • Executing the “exit interview” with client team
    • TRLC Case Study – Logistics for using this case study as a teaching tool
    • Using guidebook templates to build policy & SOPs manuals, job descriptions, etc.
    • Strategies for storing and retrieving client material – Handbook/Cloud-based systems
    • Facilitating creation of advisory boards/family councils
    • Differentiating succession planning from estate planning
    • Dealing with multiple entities & governance structures; getting to clarity on a governing council

(Optional) Farm Client Seminar

This seminar targets farm clients that have demonstrated need and interest in building professional management systems and transition processes into their daily routines.

The purpose of the seminar is to provide client participants with an introduction to key family business management concepts as well as a defined set of strategies and learning paths to fully implement these concepts.  Participants in this workshop are often prime candidates targeted by service providers for future consulting engagements.

The seminar is delivered through program lecture and case studies, and topical sessions that focus in more depth on technical concepts and tools included in the guidebook.

  • Registration and distribution of materials – presentation outline and guidebook
  • Morning Seminar – Overview of Concepts (approximately 3 hours with one break)
  • Afternoon Case Study Workshop
    • Session I-TRLC Case Study – hands on experience building a pro forma management structure for a family farm business going through a succession planning process
    • Session II-Conflict Resolution Mini-Cases–participants review conflict scenarios often encountered in family businesses and structure solutions to each problem

⊕  Non-Traditional Succession/Staffing Arrangements in Family Farm Business

Having built very successful operations, family business owners eventually plan to phase out of the active management of the business. However, many do not have lineal descendants with immediate interest in assuming key labor/management roles in the business, nor do they desire to sell or liquidate a viable operation.  What are the options? Lease out to a 3rd party? Bring in non-related principals? Contract management out for an interim period?

Situations also arise where a critical position in the business needs staffing but incumbent family members don’t have adequate skills, experience or interest in that discipline.  Where do you turn to staff critical positions such as a CEO, CFO, Precision Ag Specialist, a Herd Health Manager, or a Market Innovation Specialist?

Numerous operations have tried to “self-medicate” in structuring non-traditional succession strategies.  A high percentage of these efforts have gone awry.  In hindsight, those interviewed frequently acknowledge “…it could have worked, if we had better guidance on protocols and considerations for setting these up correctly.”  Nothing can be more demoralizing than to strike out on this path and crash, leaving you wondering what to do with a viable, successful business. Give up and sell?  Try another experiment?

This course addresses the drivers creating a need for innovative transition staffing strategies. It also helps producers in these unique situations more thoughtfully map out a solution that is tailored to their unique situation.  It builds on experiences of numerous operations that have seen both success and failure in attempts to experiment and implement “non-traditional” arrangements.

Course length – 90 minutes plus optional case study discussion

  1. What is driving the need for alternative arrangements?
  2. Issues to consider when setting up innovative structures
  3. Case study profiles of alternative situations where non-traditional successors have been brought into play
  4. Take-home lessons for designing a successful non-traditional succession plan

  Using Management Accounting to Link Financial Performance Analysis and Strategic Thinking

Few farmers understand cost structures and the strategic decisions that differentiate successful farms from those struggling financially. Traditional Enterprise Analysis hasn’t provided answers growers need to determine what decisions are contributing to success or failure. Ratio analysis is not well understood and seldom connected to goal setting and decision-making. This presentation is a primer course that showcases new initiatives in the farm management arena to implement professional managerial accounting systems. It also illustrates the often overlooked linkage between financial analysis and strategic decision making.

Participants attending this seminar will:

  • Become familiar with new initiatives and guidelines being developed by the Farm Financial Standards Council to implement professional managerial accounting systems in farm business operations
  • Gain an improved understanding of the linkage between financial analysis and strategic decision making
  • Develop strategies for guiding and motivating clients to increase the use of ratio analysis and the Dupont Model to evaluate whole farm business performance; and to assess the impact of alternative strategic shifts under consideration to improve operational efficiency, capital asset management, and use of debt leverage
  • Become familiar with a broad range of technical issues and concepts that must be understood before managerial accounting can be successfully implemented
  • Gain hands-on access to training and implementation strategies necessary to lead clients through the process of adopting managerial accounting practices

The following outline can be condensed or expanded with material and case study work to vary the presentation length from 45 minutes (minimum) to a half or all day seminar.

Segment I

  • Understanding the evolution from enterprise analysis to managerial accounting – why and how it is taking place
  • Building a foundation for MA and performance measurement – rekindling client interest and motivation to use ratio analysis as a tool to evaluate whole farm business performance; identifying the four primary drivers of financial performance
  • Using the Dupont Model to assess the impact of performance in operational efficiency, capital asset management, and use of debt leverage

Segment II

  • Five steps to Strategic Management – Why this relates to Managerial Accounting
  • Using the Dupont Model to simulate the impact on bottom line performance from specific strategic shifts under consideration
  • Differentiating purposes and methodology associated with Accounting versus Economic/Opportunity Analysis

Segment III

  • Defining the Core Concepts underpinning Managerial Accounting Practices
  • Identifying management intent; manageable segments (cost and profit centers); and developing standardized profit/cost center report formats
  • A walk through of MA using a Case Study developed by FFSC as a training tool – Spread-N-Grow Case Study

Segment IV

  • Handling unusual transactions – how do you assure the initial transaction entry provides the ability to have integrity in both external financial reports and internal managerial accounting reports?
  • Agreeing on standard definitions: Direct vs. indirect costs; variable vs. fixed costs
  • Proper methodology for dealing with internal transfer pricing situations

Segment V

  • Alternatives for allocating indirect costs (i.e. overhead); defining Capture Periods
  • Integrating financial and physical quantities ($, bu, acres, employees)
  • Highlights of several technical issues complicating managerial accounting systems: inventory valuations; handling equipment gains/losses; use of a “land cost center”; tax versus economic (book) depreciation (which number is relevant for business performance analysis?)

Segment VI

  • Strategies used and results from experiences teaching Growers, Practitioners, Consultants; lessons and feedback from grower exposures to Managerial Accounting training
  • Options for accessing resources (grants, personnel, sponsoring organizations; FFSC websites, guidelines, case studies) to teach and implement this concept in agri-business management
  • Summary and Questions

⊕  Process Improvement: Principles and Strategies for Putting This into Daily Practice

Agricultural businesses are becoming larger, more complex and involve increasing diversity and numbers of employees and owners working toward a common mission.  We operate in a global environment where how we produce is becoming almost as important as what we produce.Farm managers who adopt a continuous business improvement culture are capitalizing daily on opportunities to streamline efficiency, promote safety, reduce job process uncertainty, access value added markets, and standardize quality of products and services provided by paying more attention to this discipline.  Creation of standard operating procedures, compliance review, rewards for innovation, and penalties for non-compliance are becoming part of standard business governance processes in well run family farm businesses today.

This course is taught annually in Year 1 of TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers) as part of the core curriculum and has been presented at several producer conferences.

Course length:  90 min – 3 hours

  • Definition of “process improvement”—100 year old management discipline (also known as Scientific Engineering, Time & Motion Study, and a host of modern day management techniques such as Six Sigma, 360 Degree Management, Total Quality Improvement, etc.)
  • Real life scenarios where Process Improvement has streamlined business efficiency and enhanced performance
  • Strategies for applying Process Improvement in agricultural businesses
    • Office functions
    • Harvest/equipment operations & servicing
    • Crop agronomic practices
    • Fuel and Farm Supply Storage (chemical/fertilizer)
    • Worker safety guidelines
    • Food safety practices
    • Herd health & stock handling procedures
    • Value added market access & certification strategies
  • Mapping work flow and identifying more optimal processes
  • Variance Analysis – how to do this and why it’s important
  • Management System documentation/SOP creation and updating – strategies and templates already developed for improving communication and understanding of business governance structure through written documentation of processes

⊕  Bring Your Financial Management Processes Up to Par

Record increases in commodity prices are being matched with rapidly escalating cost structures.  Few farmers understand their cost structures and the strategic decisions that differentiate successful farms from those struggling financially.  Traditional enterprise analysis hasn’t provided answers growers need to determine what decisions are contributing to success or failure.  Ratio analysis is not well understood and seldom connected to goal setting and strategic decision-making.  Marketing approaches are too often detached from concrete cost of production understandings.  Producers overlook cost saving opportunities by not understanding how to optimize decisions to buy, lease, hire or share equipment.

This course provides a fast paced overview of core financial analysis metrics (what they are and how to interpret them). It helps participants take inventory of critical skills and proficiencies necessary to achieve excellence in financial management disciplines.  It challenges producers to understand the “why” for implementing improved financial management and accounting processes and helps identify skill base and experience levels that need to be beefed up in the business.  It exposes participants to techniques for implementing management accounting systems; conceptual discussions combined with case study work using the DuPont Model provide real world applications illustrating the often overlooked linkage between financial analysis and strategic decision making.

Participants completing the course go away with a more clear understanding of the difference in skills and needs for staffing the following roles: Chief Financial Officer, Controller, Office Manager, Bookkeeper and Data Entry staff.

This description summarizes the financial segment of the course taught annually at the NWFCS Advanced Management Seminar.  It combines general course content from the TEPAP curriculum with key concepts covered in a more specialized course on Managerial Accounting.