As the inaugural post for DC Insights, this will take on a different, more personal flavor than most of the content to come. If that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to skip to the end for the all-business part of the post and return later for subsequent writings which will provide more direct information on financial planning, investing, and family business strategy.
If you are interested in learning the story of what led me to open the doors of Dakota Coast Capital, please read on below.
My Family Business
Where I grew up in rural South Dakota, fall harvest is the most important time of year. Family farmers spend all year working their land and finally, during autumn, they can capitalize on their efforts as they harvest their crops. The urgency of the task hangs in the crisp morning air, while the smell of the freshly harvested grain signals the completion of the job. The sense of accomplishment (and relief) that comes with successfully finishing a growing season is unmatched, especially when you consider just what it takes to make it all happen. The leap of faith required to place complete trust in factors outside of your control – the weather and the grain markets – and believe things will work out over the long run? Remarkable. The adherence to the day-in and day-out discipline necessary to be successful? Remarkable.
My family is a family of farmers. My father, my grandfather, my great uncle, my great-grandfather – all farmers. It’s in the blood, as they say… My family’s legacy. Now, my two-year-old son drives his motorized John Deere up and down the driveway for hours on end and proudly names each of his toy farm animals for his adoring, mesmerized six-month-old sister. She, herself, shows rivaling affection for “Old McDonald.” Needless to say, I would be beyond proud if either them decide to be a farmer someday, too.
You may recall a Super Bowl Commercial from a few years ago. The truck ad overlays a speech by Paul Harvey, in which he vividly orates just how remarkable one must be to choose farming as a profession. A farmer must possess an unrelenting work ethic, resolve, tenderness, resilience, and tenacity… among many other qualities. A set of qualities which I have aspired since my earliest age. But as inspiring as the words have always been to me, the last line in the tribute often has left me feeling a bit unsettled:
A farmer… “then replies, with smiling eyes, when his son says that he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does’”
That… wasn’t me. I always had different dreams. The family legacy almost felt like a burden.
Still, after college I was compelled by the generations of tradition and returned to the family farm to start fulfilling my duty.
One problem. It didn’t stick.
After a few years, I mustered up the courage to leave the farm and pursue a career focused on the capital markets, where my passion had always been. It was one of the toughest choices I have ever had to make – choosing to go against the grain of my heritage and not “do what dad does.” Even though I knew in my gut that it was the right choice, it didn’t stop the feeling that I was potentially falling short of generations of responsibility.
My Family… In Transition
Little did I know at the time, unfortunate circumstances would bring me back around to the farm far sooner than I could have expected.
Fast forward to late 2017, my wife and I have just barely started to get the hang of our new role as parents in Charlotte, NC – clear across the country from my family farm. Professionally, I was working in a job that I loved with one of the world’s leading asset managers. My wife had a robust, blossoming health research career and a postdoctoral position secured at a prominent university.
We were in a really great place, personally and professionally.
Then, we were crushed to learn that my father’s health was deteriorating rapidly, and he could no longer live alone, much less continue managing the farm’s business. (By this time, much of the day-to-day management had been entrusted to other operators, but coordinating the strategic efforts still required a good deal of attention.) After months of doctor visits and hundreds of questions, we would learn that he had developed a form of early onset dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD) – the most common dementia in people under 60 years old1. The cruelty that this disease inflicts on its victims is unparalleled, which perhaps is self-explanatory when you consider how it painstakingly begins removing a person’s identity at such an early age. For a glimpse into my dad’s reality, take a few minutes to watch this 60 Minutes special from CBS.
So, with that newfound shock, we experienced the overwhelming realization that we were residing in a city without another family member within 500 miles, working in rewarding but also quite demanding careers, raising an infant, and worrying about a parent living 1000 miles away with an incurable, devastating health condition.
We both knew what we had to do. We had to move.
I needed to leave a job I never imagined I would leave. It took me weeks to process that reality and be able to even present the situation to my superiors.
But… I eventually did. And, we packed up life as we knew it.
We decided to make the greater Philadelphia area, my wife’s hometown, our home base while I spent most of 2018 in South Dakota navigating my father’s medical needs – and reconnecting with the operations of our family farm. With all the challenges that my father’s condition brought, having the opportunity to be more involved in my family business again was a silver lining in it all. My appreciation and energy for the farm had never been at a higher level. I’m finally back to fulfilling an obligation to the family legacy, albeit in a different and exciting way.
At some point in this process of navigating our new circumstances, I came to the realization that this is what I wanted to do full-time. Not a full-time return to farming, but to advise other families in similar circumstances. Families with businesses who need advice on the multi-generational planning efforts that can smooth (or ideally eliminate) any business disruptions and to help the estimated 70% of family businesses that are not currently surviving past the 1st generation of owner(s)2. Families who need help navigating the financial stresses of a newfound personal transition in their lives, whether that may be a spouse/parent facing a debilitating disease, welcoming a new baby to the family, or deliberating an upcoming retirement to spend more time with the grandkids. These notions became the foundation for the mission of Dakota Coast Capital.
So, What Does This All Mean For You?
Now in 2019, the Philly suburbs are our permanent home (with undivided fan loyalty to the Eagles and an ever-increasing appreciation for Wawa). I have spent the year transforming the initial vision of Dakota Coast Capital into a reality. Although I am continuing to guide the high-level, strategic direction of our family farm – and absolutely love staying connected with my family’s legacy – my professional focus from this point forward is on DCC and providing the vital, tailored financial services to families who have encountered similar circumstances as we have.
DCC is not just your run-of-the-mill financial advisory firm. Although, many hallmarks of our offering – fee-only, fiduciary, independence, comprehensive financial planning, science-based investing, long-term discipline and holistic wealth management – are undoubtedly terms that you will hear elsewhere. At least I hope you hear them elsewhere, as I believe they are all critical components of maximizing your probability of financial success.
The real value that DCC offers is not just in our capacity to deliver sound financial advice, however. The firm was formed for the very purpose of molding all those essential components into an offering specifically fit to the needs of families who own small businesses or who have encountered a significant life transition. We can relate to where you are coming from and offer an experienced, objective perspective. Alleviating the financial pressures to a family in transition or an enhancing the strategic planning of a family with a business enterprise is personal business for me, and thus, for the firm.
At the end of the day, the mission of DCC is to help you spend more time doing what you love with those you love. We exist to help you achieve peace of mind with your finances, free you up to pursue your dreams, and ultimately, create or fulfill a family legacy. We know from experience how significant (and challenging) it can be to accomplish those feats successfully.