Having toured Red Jacket Orchards and having heard Brain Nicholson ’94, speak once before in a food/CPG industry course, I was looking forward to Brian’s visit to our Leaders in Family Enterprise class. I found myself able to relate with Brian on multiple levels as I have an entrepreneurial spirit and would love the opportunity to create value for my family’s farm as he has.
I have heard it said before that a man is a product of his grandfathers; Brain echoed this with, “your roots are grand- and great grandparents.” I am fortunate to be part of a tight-knit family, knowing my family well (and with the help of my parents), I am able to recognize the personality traits I carry – both good and bad – and have worked to determine how I can utilize/manage those traits for future success.
One area where Brian and I differ is that he had no interest in returning to the business in college. Conversely, having never felt the pressure of the “proverbial if,” I have always had a strong interest in dairy and the family business. While my parents have been very supportive of me pursuing my own interests, sometimes actively pushing me away from dairy so that I would explore other things, I feel that my continued passion for the industry is confirmation that it is where I need to be.
I am very thankful for how open and honest Brian was in describing the dynamics of his family business. I trust my brother (who is also my best friend) more than anyone else but that doesn’t mean our relationship will always be conflict-free. As agricultural production continues to consolidate, many believe the answer is diversification and differentiation; however, wholesale commodity markets may be cutthroat but there is lots of work involved in producing and marketing a premium product to the consumer. It is important to stay disciplined and consistently execute on the things that make you successful – the cart can easily get in front of the horse if you aren’t careful.
With that, I found his comments about private equity (PE) valuable. While PE has its place and is of great value, as a business owner you can become a slave to your own desires if you get too far ahead of yourself.
It really all comes down to what your goals are and what you want.
- Do you want to be the owner of your business or do you want to have a stake in a very large business that you operate?
- Do family relationships or the business come first?
- Where do relationships in your community fit in?
- What is it that truly motivates you?
- What cards do you hold in your hand and what is your competitive edge?
There are plenty of other questions to be answered as well.
I will be sure to remember Brian’s statement, “You have the most power and influence when you are working on yourself rather than other people.” I am very thankful for my peer group at Cornell who has helped me continue to grow and improve both personally and professionally; I would be very interested in getting involved in a group such as YPO down the road so that the process can continue. I definitely need to spend more time with myself to determine what it is that I really want deep down – it is not necessarily an easy question to answer but coming closer to it will help those big decisions coming up over the next few months be much more straightforward.
Ronald Case Schaap ’20 is a 4th-year student in Agribusiness Management and a 4th generation member of his family’s farm in New Mexico.