From Farm to Legacy: Building Family Enterprises with Trevor MacLean

In this episode of the Legacy Builders Podcast, we sit down with Trevor MacLean, a Partner at MNP’s Agriculture team in Lethbridge. With over two decades of experience, Trevor is dedicated to providing creative, customized, and practical solutions to agricultural producers and agribusinesses throughout Western Canada. Drawing on his extensive background in agribusiness and financial services, Trevor excels at identifying key issues and crafting tailored solutions to manage risk, improve performance, and capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Trevor shares his motto of “be aware, be curious, and be inspiring,” emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning and leadership in both personal and professional life. The conversation delves into the challenges of family farm transitions, the complexities involved, and Trevor’s unique approach to initiating a family chemistry meeting to navigate these sensitive discussions. He highlights the significance of finding alignment with the purpose of the enterprise, advocating for a strategy that involves planned, interdependent systems to protect family and ownership.

Trevor’s wisdom extends beyond the professional realm; he discusses the changing landscape of agriculture, the impact of technology, and the delicate balance between harvesting and planting wealth for future generations. As families embark on the challenging journey of succession planning, Trevor’s insights serve as a valuable guide, reminding listeners that successful transitions require teamwork, vulnerability, and a focus on the long-term legacy.

About Trevor MacLean

Trevor MacLean, MBA, BMgt, is a dedicated Partner at MNP’s Agriculture team in Lethbridge, bringing over 20 years of experience to provide specialized business and advisory services across Western Canada. With a focus on creativity and customization, Trevor empowers agricultural producers and agribusinesses by delivering practical solutions that enhance overall success. His role involves leveraging his extensive background in agribusiness and financial services to offer clients a unique and balanced perspective, excelling in issue identification and tailored risk management, performance improvement, and capitalization on emerging opportunities. Trevor’s academic achievements include an MBA from Royal Roads University and a BMgt from the University of Lethbridge, specializing in accounting and co-op education. Beyond his professional pursuits, Trevor actively contributes to the local and agricultural communities through various volunteer roles, showcasing a deep commitment to community development.

Welcome to Legacy Builders. Strategies for building successful family enterprises. Brought to you by Beacon Family Office at Assante Financial Management Ltd. I’m your host, Cory Gagnon, Senior Wealth Advisor, and on this show, we explore global ideas, concepts, and models that help family enterprises better navigate the complexities of family wealth.

Today, we’re honored to have Trevor McLean, partner with MNP’s agriculture team in Lethbridge, Alberta. A true expert in agricultural transitions with over 2 decades of experience empowering producers and agribusiness across Western Canada. With a bachelor of management, MBA, and holding the Fia designation, Trevor’s unique perspective, rooted in agribusiness drives his commitment to the local community and various organizations.

In this episode, we delve into Trevor’s creative and practical solutions, uncovering his personal motto invaluable lessons for personal and professional growth. We explore the evolving landscape of family farms, addressing challenges, and opportunities for the rising generation. 

My goal is to be the most curious person in today’s conversation alongside Trevor McLean to navigate these complex conversations. We discussed the importance of initiating tough conversations and Trevor’s proven process beginning with a family chemistry meeting.

Whether you’re in a family business, intrigued by agriculture or seeking wisdom on family enterprise transitions. This episode is a journey packed with actionable insights. Let’s dive in. 

Cory: Alright. Well, welcome, Trevor. We’re excited to have you today and share your wealth of knowledge and experiences.

Trevor: Thank you very much, Cory. Thank you for the invite and I look forward to the conversation today.

Cory: Alright. let’s dive right in, shall we?

Trevor: You bet. Absolutely.

Cory: Alright. So, Trevor, imagine you’re delivering a commencement speech to the graduating class of 2023, and you have the chance to inspire them with your story. How would you begin your speech to convey the incredible lessons and expertise that you’ve gained throughout your career?

Trevor: Yeah. At a commemoration ceremony. So first off, I’d be thanking them for the honor of just standing in front of some graduating students, to share my story. So what I would honestly share with them, Cory is a personal motto that I developed, as I was going through my master’s education and my motto is very simple. It’s be aware, be curious, and be inspiring. And I live with that motto in every aspect of my life both personally and professionally.

The being aware component is about several things. First, take the time to look around. Slow down and enjoy life and where you are. It goes by quickly and we never know what time we have left.

Being aware is also about knowing yourself, your biases, your thinking, and your attitude. Know where you are and how you were showing up in that moment.  The second part of my motto being curious is very simple.

Be a lifelong learner. Be more curious about things and less certain. Allow your thoughts biases, and convictions to be open to change and modified. Ask questions about things you don’t know It’s well to have a conversation with others who may have something different to offer you if you allow yourself to stay in that conversation.

The 3rd part, Cory, is about being inspiring. It’s about leadership. Lead yourself. And then be open to leading others. If you follow the first 2, be aware and be curious, you will have follows, followers naturally. Lead from the heart. Trust your gut. Continue to work hard in everything that you do. And when you think, no one is watching, this is what will inspire others.

It’s very simple, Cory, I guess, again, I’m a pretty simple person, and being aware, being curious, and being aspiring, has led me to where I am. And, all of the achievements, that I’ve had in my life.

Cory: Wow. That is something, Trevor. And I think it’s safe to say that it came to you while you were doing your MBA because, if they taught you that, when you were when you were there at, doing the program at Royal Roads, you just sold that MBA program pretty well.

Trevor: Well as you go through education, I always say that 50% of your education doesn’t come from the professor or the textbooks or the readings. It comes from the interaction with the other students, the other learners, that you’re fortunate to get to be a part of and share the program with.

And it is exactly that, and that’s how I came up with it in the after-hour dialogue and conversations with the other learners that it hit me. And it was about don’t let this time in your MBA rush by without pausing to learn from other students.

There’s so much to learn. I did it kind of midlife, my MBA. I had a little bit of business experience behind me. It had already gone through my undergrad. I had 2 kids on the ground and a wife at home. So it was about slowing down and taking time to smell the roses and learn from other people. And, it just opened me up to be humble. I ask a lot of questions and allow again, just simply allow your own biases convictions, and thoughts to be challenged because when you’re open and when your mind is open, it’s like a parachute. If the parachute isn’t open, you’re not going to learn anything.

So if you treat your mind in the same manner as your belief systems and everything else, it’s amazing how beautiful, a life journey can be.

Cory: I love the analogy to the parachute and, luckily, the stakes aren’t as high for some, but I think that’s a great way to explain it. And, Trevor, I want to go back to taking the time to look around because you spend a lot of time on the Canadian prairies. And, tell me a little bit about looking around the components of your model there.

Trevor: Looking around is, part of what is surrounding us, and we’re very fortunate in Canada, especially in prairies to have the landscapes, that we do around us from the Canadian Rockies to the grasslands where livestock is raised to the prairies where crops are growing that feed the world.

Different cultures from the Hutterites to the Mennonites to all of, the immigrant people that have come before us and the indigenous communities that we’re surrounded by, when you actually step outside and, again, allow yourself to be just a little bit vulnerable and have a conversation with people that are strangers. We are in some glorious, glorious lands. And, I love it.

My job allows me to go to different corners of Western Canada and little pockets of beauty that are just absolutely inspiring that people choose to live where they are miles from nowhere, but the beauty is, literally 360 degrees around them.

Cory: I love that. And I think that goes to the asking questions component and that curiosity of why people live where they live and do what they do.

Trevor: Absolutely. And I’ve spent my career basically surrounded by other cultures by choice. That’s where my family heritage is from, the Handhills area of Alberta.

And, it is just beautiful and people choose to live in remote areas, well obviously, it’s not for the money and it’s a lot for the lifestyle and the peace and the tranquility and not being beholden to quote-unquote a boss and that you get to lead yourself, every single day.

And I applaud the people, and many days, I’m very empathetic that I would love to be sitting in their shoes, just doing what I want to do every single day, and I have fortunately found a lane, in life and career that allows me to stay connected to agriculture and the producers that are very much part of, what would I get to do?

Cory: That’s great, Trevor. And now going back to the people who choose where they are and where they live. Some generations have chosen not to continue to live where their ancestors did. What are you finding from that perspective? Is the younger generation in some of these areas? How are they transitioning as some of them move to the city, but some still stay on the farms? How is that changing the landscape?

Trevor: Well, it’s a great question, Cory, and it is absolutely changing and has changed the landscape where the vast majority of our populations now live in urban centers and some towns are losing people, but still holding to their agricultural roots. But what is also happening, and I’m not sure if it’s a shift through COVID or not or just the pressures of life trying to exist, if you will, in urban centers?

But in the last number of years, I’ll say 4 or 5 years, I have actually seen a transition of that next generation who has left the family farm and gone into the urban centers to get an education and get a job actually come back to the family farm or at least come back on a part time basis because they realize they miss it, and there’s something very special about being connected to other cultures and your heritage, your family roots, that calls people back and it is, it’s a delicate balance and you have to make a choice whether it’s for you or not, but there definitely has been a shift that, that generation that may have left is saying, man, I have a yearning to go back to where it was that I came from and where I was raised and how I was raised and , I don’t want my kids to have that opportunity to sit in the side seat with, with grandpa or grandma , in the grain cart or in the combine or the tractor, feed the cows, just being around that, there’s something very special to be connected to the land.

Cory: And, Trevor, do you think that will change some of what you’re saying is the people coming back to their roots? Do you think that the decline in the number of family farms that we’ve seen over the last longer than that 4 to 5 years that you speak of do you think maybe some of this trend might stabilize or reverse a bit?

Trevor: Cory, I am not an economist by any stretch of the imagination. I have no connection to sociology, but I would say we’re never going to get back to the numbers that we’re in real areas but I think that is it stabilizing. I’m not sure if it’ll ever, quote, stabilize.

I’m just thankful that honestly when I do talk to families where they have kids that are desiring to come back that is supporting people wanting to get back to a simpler way what I look at is just people just want a simple life. They want to make money so they can provide for themselves, and their family, and have a great life. But will it ever stabilize?

I’m not sure there’s such a calling for people in urban centers because that’s easier to get around and then just call it the quote benefits or all those other things that we like to consume in life are just more readily available in urban centers, and they are in rural. And I think that’s part of the calling is it’s an easier lifestyle when you’re in an urban center versus rural. It’s not as private, granted, but everything is more convenient.

Cory: Absolutely. Yep. And there’s a lot that we pay for convenience in life and privacy is one of those. And trippers, we talk of the privacy or the things that are happening within those communities, growing up in a small town, I understand that there is no privacy as much as you might think. Everyone knows each other’s business.

Sometimes that coffee table chatter is powerful and sometimes, in a dangerous way and I wanted to ask you about some of those conversations that are happening around the coffee tables be it in households or maybe around the local coffee shop as we’re talking about the next generation and preparing those family farms for what’s up ahead.

Trevor: Well, another good question, Cory, and I’ll start by saying that there’s a realization that, transitioning is more difficult than I think a lot of people thought.  Just starting the conversation is difficult. Family dynamics, of course when you think about different personalities in the same household different levels of expectations, and levels of quote need in families. All of that plays a part in succession.

And I think that, if you sit around, a coffee table and talk to whether it be your family or people in the community, we are at a stage in Canada where in the next decade the vast majority of agricultural farms are going to transition. And it’s a big number, as far as households that are going to transition or farms are going to transition.

But when you think about the dollars, they’re involved in that transition. There is not a bigger bucket of wealth, that is going to transition in that decade than in agriculture. And I think that one of the complexities that families are struggling with is just the sheer wealth number and what do you do with it all? Because most family farms didn’t, start their family farm to get wealthy.

But now because of circumstances and the time value of money, farms, from corner to corner of our great country are worth a lot of money. So that component of wealth that’s trapped in, these family farms is created unintentionally a lot of additional complexity when it comes to planning your family transition.

Cory: And those complexities that you see, Trevor, and you talked about the just even beginning the conversation, and it seems to be a large mountain to climb for most families as they begin to think of that, how do you navigate that with families as you’re traveling this country?

Trevor: Well, you, I think first, simply just need to lay out a process and it is a process that I follow with families, and it starts with having a family chemistry meeting. Talking to the family and saying, kind of, here’s what’s in store for you, what does it look like?

Where does everybody sit? Open up that tough conversation that families don’t want to embark on themselves and tell me your expectations at the end of transition.

What does it look like? Where do you want to be sitting in the 3-circle model, family, business, and ownership? And what is the time frame that goes along with that, it is.

It sounds again, it sounds simple, but I think that’s where, again, I’ve had success is distilling it down to the simplicity of having a family conversation and opening up those hard soft areas that families don’t like to go down, for fear of upsetting the family dynamic.

Cory: And, Trevor, what’s the difference between the chemistry meeting and anything that the families had before? Do you find that you get a lot of hush?

Trevor:  I have had an incredible number of moments.  As I speak to the family.  So when I break away from the chemistry meeting and the family is engaged and said, yes. Okay. We realize that we need some support to help us navigate through this succession or family transition.

It’s having one-on-one conversations with the individuals who are involved in family, business, and ownership and asking them an array of questions. That’s where the comes out. And it’s very simple.

I think people, as an advisor and family, business advisor, I don’t have a bias. I don’t have any preconceived expectations or notions about what needs to be done. I simply ask questions and probe and get people to open up, and It’s an amazing gift that I’m afforded every single time I get to work with families.

About the stories that are revealed, where people are at, and how they got to where they’re at. And those are in each situation, there is a moment, I think, for myself and also for the individual because they often hold on to things, and are waiting for that moment for somebody to ask them the question.

Whatever that question is that allows them to get something out or onto the table. And that is the power of conversation especially when you come at it from this curiosity mindset and unbiasedness is that people are willing to talk.

And I always say when you get a farmer talking about his farm, there is nothing more glorious than that because they truly open up and you get to hear about when it started and what it looked like when they first got there, and all of the riches of their labor and the family and the growing up of everybody.

Whether it’s congregating around the dairy parlor, the branding, or the harvest parties, all of those stories that are part of a family story are what comes out, and it is it’s a gift.

Every single time, I get to hear the words, from the people when they share them with me.

Cory: What a gift and an opportunity that, you have that fits so nicely into your model of being curious and asking questions. One of the things I wanted to go back to is in your model, you talked about being open to change.

And, change can be scary for many, and I think of those family stories and how amazing, many of them are, if not, all of them have some challenges in them, Trevor, but going back to that open-to-change component and really how do you find that fits into some of these families as they navigate the transition?

Trevor: Well, I have been changed, though, again, my position here as a family business adviser in that I’ve come to understand that everybody, every family has a story.  And don’t be so judgmental when you’re looking at somebody from the outside don’t rush to judge anybody or any certain situation or circumstances stance.

Everybody truly has a story. And that part of what I’ve done is help change me.  In turn, I’ve shared not the actual stories but the learnings that families have shared with me, with colleagues and family about wow. Like, this is how difficult it was, and these are the situations that many families are dealing with. And It is part of shaping and allowing yourself to be shaped by the people with whom, you interact on a daily basis.

And I say this often, to my wife and my family that I am so fortunate to be able to do what I do because I love trying to help families navigate the complexity of what is of transition and try to bring it down to something simpler and what can you live with?

Because no decision you make today is going to be perfect and not everybody in the family or the business or the ownership is going to understand it, and they all may not accept it 100% but can you look at yourself through the journey and say, I can live with this.  And I’ve listened to everybody.

I’ve heard what people have said, and I know what I need and I want and you base your decision on that information. That truly is for me, a culmination of what gets to be complex to simple and a good outcome, for everybody.

Cory: I love that question, Trevor. just asking yourself, what can I live with? And be it the now generation or the rising generation or call it whatever you’d like in that transition. Of the judgments that come from Dad hasn’t changed his ways or, all the ways that both parties can have that judgment is understanding that everyone has their story and perspective of where they came from and where they’re at, and knowing it just brings it back to that simplicity, as you said.

Trevor: It is Cory, and I’ll pull out a word that you just said that is very valid for this situation and its understanding. Right? It’s you don’t have to always accept or agree with what somebody’s position may be on a particular point or a particular matter, but can you understand it? And it is about having again, that understanding that their view or their need or expectation may be different than yours, and that’s okay.

That is okay because you look around us in the world today, and there’s a lot of chaos. Wars are going on. There’s famine food security, food sovereignty, food safety, All these issues, and it’s very complex, but when you just step back and just say I understand. I understand your situation.

I understand your position. I understand why you’re saying what you’re saying in your position. But you don’t have to fight it. You don’t have to fight it. You don’t have to object to it. Just understand it. because again, I go back. Everybody has a story. we all have different makeups, and we’ve all come from different paths. And sometimes I just wish that we could just pause and just reflect and accept. It is that simple. And I’m coming across as maybe philosophical, but it is at certain points you do have to allow yourself and others just to pause and, look around. Be aware and just accept.

Cory: Well and, Trevor, the positivity and acceptance is something that oftentimes is humans on the hamster wheel, we don’t do. And just going back to your chemistry meeting or those where you mentioned that people are often waiting for somebody to ask that question, let’s go a little bit into that perception of communication. Perceived communication versus actual communication.

There’s something in a previous conversation that you and I talked about and it’s in my memory of the walk across the farm yards kicking dust and that conversation, where there’s perceived communication versus where maybe there is actual communication. Can you touch a little bit on that?

Trevor: Absolutely. I often ask family businesses to tell me about, your communication in the business and the family, etc. And we meet every single day. And, okay, can you tell me about that? What does that look like? Well, it’s between the house and the barn. And we have that 2-minute conversation. They interpret that as communication and talking about the business.

And, I challenge people that the forum walking across the barnyard or the farmyard forum is a place to communicate about something as important as business planning on the next steps, talking about the financials, talking about the opportunities, the risks, the threats the needs of the business. And does that get talked about?

And are people taking notes or simply just hearing what somebody else is saying and then putting it into you into their memory, and hopefully recalling it factually later when you do want to have a business conversation, and it’s something more serious? And you ask yourself, where did it go sideways? We talk every single day.

It really is kind of the formalization, of actually sitting down and having an agenda and making it known that this is a business conversation, and you don’t want to interweave kids’ hockey game stories into it or a dinner party that’s coming up.

It’s a business conversation, and you sit down, you’re attentive, you’re taking notes, I just caution families that walking across the farm yard while those conversations should continue. That’s very much a fabric of what makes the informality of farms so rich in those conversations.

But you also need to have formal business conversations to make sure that the hard conversations and the hard topics are talked about, and not getting pushed aside.

Cory: Well, and going back to the complexities and the wealth that’s been created in these agriculture businesses, Trevor if you rewind to the beginning, it wasn’t the formalities of business that was the reason why these people started their operations.

So that transition to adding that formality, I’m sure it can be quite difficult

Trevor: It’s very difficult in many situations. And I only point to my kind of family as an example that my grandfather never had a computer. Ever in his life. And it wasn’t that long ago 15 years ago, 16 years ago that he passed. And today this generation that’s coming into business, especially in agriculture, is inundated by apps, and the phone has so many power capabilities, and connectedness that it changes how you run a business.

So when you’re transitioning from, that generation prior, even the baby boomers, to where the technology is at today is an immense change.  That generation that’s coming into a family farm they’re eager and they’ve touched and they’ve played with a number of these apps and technologies.

And they’re like, dad, please just let me get a hold of this and let me show you what we can do here and I can connect my tractor to the feed wagon or the grain cart and look how all these things connect and one takes over the other and by the way, look what I can do with the dairy cows and all the reports and the information that we have at our fingertips. And to that generation that’s getting out of the business, it’s almost overwhelming.

And they want the simplicity of just getting up and going to the barn and feeding the animals or jumping in the trash or turning on and driving. And, albeit the path in the field may not be perfectly straight they’re happy.

They want that simplicity, but that new generation also knows that the new way of agriculture requires and demands that sophistication and technology be adopted because margins are so thin and the number of influences coming into a family farm is enormous today. Geopolitical consequences to interest rates, labor, fuel, energy, all of these things are forces that are pushing in at the margins that farms have, and you need to be on top of all of those if you want to succeed.

So that’s kind of part of the complexity of navigating farm transition today is getting each side to be patient, that’s patient with yourself and patient with others because the transition is all about change management.

And the way you perceive it or the way you want to approach it, it’s going to be very different than somebody else, especially when in many forms, agriculture, is an identity, for a farmer. It’s, what they’ve done their whole life. It’s how they’re identified in the community. It’s their connection to their independence, all of that.

So you’ve got to be patient because everybody needs to go through this change, at their own pace. Yeah, it’s tough and technology is adding, a big part of that complexity.

Cory: For sure. And ever going back to having a dad or Grandpa or whoever on his tractor and being okay with the lines not being straight. And you talked about identity, and I think that that’s so important in being patient with the fact that dad’s identity is that and allowing that identity to stay, or on the flip side of allowing that next generation, the opportunity to maybe take a quarter section and show what they could do or take one of the operations and implement technology.

How do you see that when it comes to succession of the business comes into play?

Trevor: Cory, it’s a great question. And every family and every farm is unique in that aspect, but what I suggest to my families is a key strategy for success through a family enterprise transition It’s very simple. It’s a plan for the family, with family council plans, for the business, have a business or a strategy plan for ownership, have an ownership succession plan, each system of family business and ownership are independent, but in in a family enterprise family farm, they become 1 in dependent and interconnected, system. And therefore, each one of those systems has to have a plan.

So, to your point as part of that plan, let’s allow the next generation at some point in time, to implement one of their kind of curiosity learnings or one of their ideas, and let’s put a measurement in place so that everybody can see whether it works or doesn’t work. And whether it’s because of, good management or just good luck that something worked out. So have a plan and look at those things that you can measure through the implementation of a plan.

It’s in thinking about the implications and synergies with the other systems, that makes things flourish. it brings me back to high school physics class and that, for every reaction, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Right? So planning is very important and don’t do it in isolation. Know, either by system or individually. It’s an important task that requires collaboration between the generations.

So, bring it all back to again, my motto. I hate to do it, but this is a story and a conversation, with all three elements. Take them all into consideration, be aware, be curious, be inspiring, and the same thing you look at your family enterprise, in family, business, and ownership spaces. Each of them just requires particular attention and planning.

Cory: And what a great gateway to kind of wrap things as we near the end of our conversation, and before we wrap up our episode and our conversation today, Trevor, there’s a few questions that I ask each guest. Are you ready for the hard ones?

Trevor: You bet, Cory. Shoot away. Alright. This is like the hot stove. Like, yeah, he is asking me a whole bunch of questions on what’s hot over here, Cory. So, let’s get on with it.

Cory: Alright. So, if you were to funnel it down to one key strategy, you believe is most essential for building a successful family enterprise. What would that one strategy be?

Trevor: Strategy would be planned, and give yourself a lot of time in that planning process. And again, I think I just spoke to it, Cory, and that is to look at each system independently. And then interdependent, figure out where the overlap is between those 3 systems and figure out how you’re going to, navigate the interaction of those systems. So how are you going to protect family from ownership, ownership from family?

Business from ownership, ownership from business and family from business, and business from family. It is. It’s planned and again, a plan is something that should be revisited. And just because it’s written down doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed.

Again, I think I spoke about the chaos that’s in our world. We have to be adaptable through transition, but planning does help people to get alignment. And it’s very important that as much as we talk about communication and planning that’s in the hope that everybody can get alignment.

It’s when you get alignment and buy-in that the succession plan starts to get traction. And you start to plant the seeds for that next generation, and successful transition.

Cory: That, are so many things that I could ask more questions on, but we’ll leave that for another day, Trevor. That’s fantastic the next question is what is the most common challenge that you see in your travels with visiting Family Enterprises and those that you work with? When it comes specifically to wealth transition and the continuity of the enterprise.

Trevor: And this was at the crux of this family’s dilemma, right now in their transition. And, the challenge is a, and I just spoke to it. It’s finding alignment on the purpose of the enterprise.

And, again, find alignment on the purpose of the enterprise. If the purpose of the enterprise is about a legacy, and it’s allowing generation after generation the opportunity to make a living, to carry on the activities of farming. Then if that’s your purpose, that should then guide.

That’s the north star of everything that falls out. All of your governance, your frameworks, your policies, and your practices, are about the next generation. And it’s always about the next generation. So I bring that back to families, Cory, and ask them what can I live with.

So do I want to harvest all the wealth out of the enterprise or do I leave the vast majority of the wealth in that enterprise for the next generation to take care of so that they can then take care of the generations that follow?  And so that’s the delicate balance, harvesting versus planting leaving it behind for the next generation. Is it the family bank account, and the assets, or is it the enterprises? It’s a tough question, but alignment on the purpose can help support that generational continuity that we speak about through family transition.

Cory: That’s fantastic. And so, Trevor, would it be safe to say that a strategy that you would suggest to overcome this challenge would be, just that very simple but powerful question of what can I live with?

Trevor: I would invite the listeners to develop a strategy around specific family meetings and the agenda to speak to the purpose and expectations of the enterprise. Talking at a high level about the operating and business plans, and family philanthropy ownership visions, each area should be open to the next generations to talk about. Ask about, and hear about the topics of investments, philanthropy, expectations, and inheritance, which shouldn’t be taboo, shouldn’t be taboo topics, when the form is created to allow people and invite family to open up about it.

You need to set a safe and confidential environment for everybody and too often the next generation doesn’t know what they don’t know about these topics. Because it becomes a place of friction between generations. Communication is that critical ingredient to help reduce anxiety build awareness and build alignment between all of the generations.

Cory: That’s great. And Trevor, in your experience, what would you say are the top 3 qualities that successful family enterprise leaders possess?

Trevor: Wow. Hot stove question, Cory! Top 3. Well, first off, without a doubt, strong leadership, and when I say strong leadership, I don’t mean somebody who is immovable. Okay. Strong leadership means I go back to my motto, being aware, curious, inspiring, and allowing yourself to be molded by others. Before you lead anybody else, you’ve got to lead yourself type of thing.

So having strong leadership is a very critical ingredient, for a successful, enterprise transition. The second one is strong communication or strong communication, within the family. Don’t be afraid to address the hard topics. Use conflict as a spark to engage don’t use it to fuel animosity or fuel past, relationship issues. Use it as a spark to help people get over and get through certain situations. The second, the third one I’m stuck with, Cory between having a collaborative environment, where everybody has listened to and heard, and having a strong, coaching mentor environment.

Those last 2, if I could bundle them together as the 3rd, I would do that and a collaborative environment that allows for good mentoring and coaching.

Cory: I love it. And we’ll let you we’ll let you do that Trevor. I think I’ll give you that one. It’s that’s great. And I think you highlighted way more 3 there, which is very powerful and helpful for our listeners. I’m sure.

Trevor: Well, thanks, Cory. I like I said, absolutely love what I do, every day, and I’m fortunate, and blessed to be able to be part of doing what I love to do and being part of the agricultural community in my position as a family business advisor it is. It’s it is a blessing.

Cory: I can hear the passion every time we speak, and you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing here on this planet. So that’s great, Trevor. I wanted to make sure that we’ve covered everything that you wanted to cover today. Is there anything you like to share with our audience that we didn’t have the chance to touch on?

Trevor: Well I think we’re just kind of getting into the meat of the matter with regards to transition because it is a very as you’re gathering. You’ve been in this space a while now, Cory and there is complexity. There are dynamics. There’s it’s a big system that you operate in and allow yourself to be vulnerable. I just want to remind listeners you don’t have to win. Some notes sing as winners and losers through a family transition.

There doesn’t have to be through it when you get an advisor to help you and help your family and your business through this process properly engage a team. No one advisor is going to do this with you the whole way. It is going to be a team that gets your succession goals or your transition goals done. That includes a wealth adviser. That includes your bank, that includes your accountant.

That includes a lawyer, it may include family counseling because there are issues within the family that need to be resolved before anybody can move forward, in any aspect. So be open to it. It’s what Canada does best as playing hockey and that a team wins the Stanley Cup not because of one player. If it was that simple, the Edmonton Oilers may have won 3 Stanley Cups by now because they have the best player presumably on earth, but it goes time and time again.

It takes a team to hoist the Stanley Cup and I ask families. It takes a team. I encourage you. It takes a team to be able to hoist that family trophy, whatever that family trophy is, to say we made it.

We transitioned to that next generation, and our vision whatever that vision is allowed to live through. So embrace the idea of bringing a team in to help you get your goals achieved, because it’s very important. And along the way, you will find that, if you bring others into the decision-making process and idea generation what you thought was possible, really becomes achievable, at the end of the day.

Cory:  Well, I appreciate that and a great closing message, Trevor. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to share all your expertise and vast experiences. I’m sure we could talk for days on and on about all the experiences you have had in your travels. Your insights have been incredibly valuable, and we’re grateful for your contribution, and, for helping make this episode what it is.

Trevor: Cory, I truly thank you for the opportunity to reach out and have the conversation with me. I hope your listeners get something from it and, if they have questions, or want to connect with me, please, share anything with them that’s possible. I’m here to help the agricultural community coast to coast. And if we could have another conversation down the road, Cory, I’d definitely be open to it. And, hey, I love what I’m doing, and I’m glad to be part, of this podcast to reach other families across the platform. So, thank you.

Cory:  We’ll be sure to include all your contact information in the show notes. And that invite for another conversation will be sure to come for sure.

Trevor: Thanks, Cory very much. and, hey. Happy Halloween. We’ll talk to you soon.


As we wrap up another episode of Legacy Builders, We journeyed into the world of family enterprises and agricultural transitions. A heartfelt thank you to our great Trevor McLean. Trevor shared his extensive experience unveiling the secrets to success in eager business transitions.

His passion and dedication to delivering creative customized solutions that empower clients shine through every insight shared. From Trevor’s tips to the 3 pillars of his life motto. Be aware. Be curious. Be inspiring. We’ve gleaned invaluable lessons applicable both personally and professionally.

The landscape of family farms and the challenges faced by the younger generation became vivid through Trevor’s words. We explored the complexities of family communication, dynamics, and the delicate balance of wealth distribution.

Were laid bare offering a roadmap for families, and finding alignment on the purpose of the enterprise, is the north star guiding governance and practices were echoed as a powerful takeaway.  As we wrap up this episode, remember Trevor’s profound question. What can you live with? It’s not just a question for the now or the rising generations.

It’s a universal guide for navigating the judgments, complexities, and decisions in the journey of family continuity. I encourage you listeners to reflect on this episode’s insights, share them with your network, and stay tuned for more thought-provoking conversations with industry leaders. If you’d like to learn more about Trevor, and the unique services he provides.

You can find him in the MNP directory and on LinkedIn. We’ve provided those links and his com we’ve provided those links and his contact information in the show notes.


This program was prepared by Cory Gagnon who is a Senior Wealth Advisor with Beacon Family Office at Assante Financial Management Ltd. This is not an official program of Assante Financial Management and the statements and opinions expressed during this podcast are not necessarily those of Assante Financial Management. This show is intended for general information only and may not apply to all listeners or investors; please obtain professional financial advice or contact us at [email protected] or visit to discuss your particular circumstances before acting on the information presented

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