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Making dollars make sense

Onlookers at the Diversity, Direction & Dollars agricultural forum Tuesday had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from Jolene Brown.

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The keynote speaker during the 18th annual forum at the Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge in Dickinson, Brown, a fiery speaker and author, gave tips to a crowd of about 100 on how to survive and thrive in a family farm or ranch business situation.

Presenting for more than an hour, Brown spoke of tales of families that had succumbed to tricky, and sometimes dysfunctional, family dynamics, favoritism and an “entitlement philosophy” that can often hurt a family ag business.

Often, Brown pointed out, big problems can occur within the family business structure when the financial structure — including the all-important estate planning — is out of whack.

“You should never loan money to a family member that you’re not willing to take to court, unless it could be a gift,” Brown told her audience during one story. “We need to understand if things in the family business are going to be loaned or gifted. I made that statement once during a speech and a woman told me ‘I thought were a Christian.’” The thing is — what happens when you need it for your income and they don’t pay you?”

Brown also stressed the importance of keeping detailed and timely records, scheduling regular meetings, requiring that every partner in the business has at least a two-year degree in a “field that benefits the operation,” and making sure that everyone in the business has “skin in the game,” among other pointers.

A professional speaker and author of the book “Sometimes You Need More than a 2x4: How-to-tips to successfully grow a family business,” Brown used her unique style to engage her Dickinson audience, asking for participation and demanding attention with her assertive tone.

“She tells it like it is,” said Sentinel Butte resident Jim Weinreis, who is in the family ranching business and attended the forum. “Growing up in the large family, I’ve experienced a lot of what she’s talking about. I’m involved in a partnership with six other brothers and, when we lost our mom and dad, we went through a lot of changes in leadership. What she has to say is very interesting.”

An Iowa native, Brown said after her talk that mineral rights issues in oil-rich western North Dakota can sometimes add to the list of challenges for the family business.

“The mineral rights — that’s a whole other game in and of itself,” Brown said. “I did weave in one sentence where I said ‘please don’t give so much to your kids that you ruin their lives.’ You have to learn how to work together, give to others, and manage money. When you get something for nothing, you start to get that entitlement philosophy — everybody else is going to always do it for me.”

I her words, Brown said her main goal is to motivate people to “stand on their two feet, so they can have self-worth and also give to others.”

Though, for the most part, business has been good for many farmers and ranchers in recent years, Brown also reminded onlookers that life is a rollercoaster.

“Farmers and ranchers become much better managers when times are tough,” Brown said. “So, when prices go down — and they will go down — they will learn how to really hunker down. I think we’ve become very good managers and technology has helped with that. Money is a finite resource — we have to always make sure we’re taking care of the finances.”

Anne Denholm, director of communications for the North Dakota Farmers Union, said she enjoyed Brown’s viewpoints.

“I thought what she said was very relevant,” Denholm said. “Farmers and ranchers have to value their assets and take control. We’re becoming more astute with technology and the different tools that we have today and I think that’s important. Agriculture is still the number one industry in the state.”

For more information on Brown or to order her book, visit or call 319-643-2429.



Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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