Tips For Overcoming Challenges In Family Business From The Owners Of Costa Farms

Laura Drotleff
Laura Drotleff

Our industry is run by a collection of family businesses, and every one, no matter how big or small, has its share of management issues. But there are several differences between one that is run successfully as a business and one that allows family politics to distract from the organization’s goals.

In this year’s State Of The Industry Survey, we noted that labor recruitment and succession are two areas where growers struggle. In talking with the owners of Costa Farms for this month’s cover story, I thought some of the values they have incorporated into the operation’s management structure really stood out as practices that other family businesses could use.

The participatory management approach to business and team building is one that Tony Costa, the second-generation owner of Costa Farms, instilled in his children, Maria Costa-Smith and Jose Costa, and son-in-law, Joche Smith, the current owners of Costa Farms.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, I’ll save you some time: Participatory management is the practice of empowering members of a group, such as employees of a company, to participate in organizational decision-making.

“Our dad firmly believes that without participation, there is no commitment, and one of the biggest lessons I learned from him, which led to our team being our biggest asset, is we have to come together as a team to communicate, participate, and give opinions,” Maria says. “To build the best team, we have to be sure that we are inclusive in our decisionmaking and allow people to grow.”

The leadership at Costa Farms made a conscious decision years ago that team members don’t have to have the Costa last name to run the business, or big parts of it, Joche says.

The current owners of Costa Farms (left to right) are Jose “Joche” Smith, Maria Costa-Smith, and Jose Costa.
The current owners of Costa Farms (left to right) are Jose “Joche” Smith, Maria Costa-Smith, and Jose Costa.

“The only way we’re going to be able to recruit great people and keep great people who are going to help us grow the business is to give them opportunities to grow. If people come into this organization — or any organization — and understand that they can only get to a certain level because so-and-so is in line to run the business, you’re never going to attract the most talented people around. It’s important. It’s not Joche, Jose, and Maria making all the decisions here — far from it. We have a great group of people who make good decisions who we empower every day, so they can grow professionally, they can grow financially, and they can grow by taking more responsibility.”

Recruiting dynamic, intelligent people from within and outside the industry has been a key to Costa Farms’ continued growth over the years. Providing team members with a good experience is key to spreading the word that your organization is the employer of choice.

“Your best ambassadors are your team members,” Maria says. “I love hearing our team members talk about why they love to work here. That’s infectious. We are focused on our goal to be the employer of choice on all levels — from farm workers to programmers, financial planning, and marketing.”

Tony Costa also taught the current owners how to be an efficient, working family, Maria says. Balancing the leadership of a family business isn’t always easy, but the keys, she adds, are communication, tolerance, and mutual respect.

The owners of the company have worked to segment the different areas under each of their control, to avoid power struggles and keep the business running smoothly.

“We have compartmentalized what each of us do very well,” Jose says. “We ask each other for advice, but we respect one another’s boundaries, and we divide and conquer. We’re all focused on certain portions of the business, and allow and trust explicitly the others to do their jobs. We’re not second-guessing — we are giving everybody room to work”

This is critical going forward, as the ownership eventually transitions to the next generation of leadership, which may not necessarily be Costa family members, Joche says.

“Separating our roles into more traditional areas of responsibility is important, so when we plan succession to the next group, we’re not so intertwined and involved in everything,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to replace us if we have a little more discipline.”

Grower Homework: Is the working experience at your operation one that your team promotes to others? If not, take a look at your management structure. How can you divide and conquer, and separate responsibilities? How can you empower others to make decisions and advance within your organization? Share your ideas and experiences with me at [email protected]

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

More From Business Management...
If your Wi-Fi is truly secure, your staff can help customers on the sales floor starting today

March 25, 2017

What Marketing Approach Can Attracts the Most Customers to Your Greenhouse?

Inc.com surveyed more than a thousand customers to find out which marketing strategies worked best to entice them to try out a new business

Read More
Leanne Kenealy, Hoffman Nursery

March 24, 2017

New Horticulturist At Hoffman Nursery Will Focus On Developing New And Better Products

Leanne Kenealy, who brings great experience in plant evaluation, says introducing consumers to new plants can hopefully generate renewed excitement for gardening.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Product Recall

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

Read More
Latest Stories
If your Wi-Fi is truly secure, your staff can help customers on the sales floor starting today

March 25, 2017

What Marketing Approach Can Attracts the Most Customers…

Inc.com surveyed more than a thousand customers to find out which marketing strategies worked best to entice them to try out a new business

Read More
Leanne Kenealy, Hoffman Nursery

March 24, 2017

New Horticulturist At Hoffman Nursery Will Focus On Dev…

Leanne Kenealy, who brings great experience in plant evaluation, says introducing consumers to new plants can hopefully generate renewed excitement for gardening.

Read More

March 21, 2017

How Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Can Prepare for a Prod…

The United Fresh Produce Association is holding a Recall Ready Workshop in April that is designed to help growers properly manage a recall, from liability to communications.

Read More
Greenhouse Loyal Customer

March 16, 2017

How Brand Enthusiasts Can Be Your Most Loyal Customers

A marketing expert shares three core principles that direct-to-consumer companies can follow to create brand enthusiasts.

Read More

March 14, 2017

Expanded Customer Footprint, E-Commerce, Succession Key…

Costa Farms' acquisition of indoor foliage producer Delray Plants rocked the industry, but the story behind Delray Plants' sale is the same as for many growers struggling with succession planning. For Costa Farms, the strategic purchase expands its customer footprint and also fast tracks its foray into e-commerce.

Read More
Steve Black and Bridget Behe

March 14, 2017

AmericanHort’s First-Ever CareerUP Event to Take Place …

CareerUP is a day-long workshop that is designed to provide the skills, information, and inspiration that young professionals need to advance their careers, love their jobs, and help the industry grow.

Read More
Horticultural Research Institute Logo

March 12, 2017

Horticulture Research Institute Rings in New Year With …

More than 150 industry professionals attended a reception at MANTS, which introduced new officers and celebrated the more than $190,000 in donations for HRI research fostering business-building knowledge for the horticultural industry.

Read More

March 10, 2017

Costa Farms Expands With Purchase of Indoor Houseplant …

Costa Farms annnounced March 10 that it has acquired Delray Plants, one of the leaders in the indoor houseplant industry. The two operations are committed to the same values, principles, and goals to grow the industry, and will fit well together to accomplish this, say Randy Gilde, CEO of Delray Plants, and Joche Smith, CEO of Costa Farms.

Read More
Startup Stock Photos

March 10, 2017

Passionate Horticulture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team

GreenhouseGrower.com is looking for people to join our team and submit original content to our website about floriculture and greenhouse production of emerging crops.

Read More

March 7, 2017

Local Florists Celebrate Women’s Day and SAF Prom…

Florists across the U.S. are celebrating International Women's Day, March 8, and raising awareness for non-profit organizations. The Society of American Florists is raising its own awareness of what happens when women receive flowers with a new video for International Women's Day.

Read More
Egon and Laina Molbak

March 7, 2017

American Floral Endowment Receives Major Contribution t…

AFE recently announced that it has received a $100,000 contribution from Egon and Laina Molbak, the founders and long-time owners of Molbak’s Garden + Home outside of Seattle.

Read More
Ken and Deena Altman

March 7, 2017

Altman Plants in Escrow to Purchase EuroAmerican Propag…

Ken Altman, a co-owner of Altman Plants based in Vista, CA, has confirmed that the operation is currently in escrow to purchase EuroAmerican Propagators, the Bonsall, CA-based young plant and finished plant grower that filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on Jan. 23, 2017. Ken and Deena Altman are co-owners of Altman Plants and The Plug Connection, along with their son Matthew, who has recently bought into the family business. The 55 acres of land and all of the facilities on it, which were previously owned by Jerry Church, a partner in EuroAmerican Propagators, are part of the purchase agreement currently in escrow, Altman says. However, it would not be absorbed by Altman Plants, which in 2016 was number 3 on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list with more than 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled greenhouse production, 62 acres of shade production, and 400 acres of outdoor field production. Altman Plants’ property […]

Read More

March 2, 2017

Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry Whitepaper Avai…

This year’s survey featured a record 975 respondents and tackled topics such as sales trends, technology, major industry challenges and opportunities, and much more.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower State of the Industry Webinar

February 27, 2017

State of the Industry Webinar Available for On-Demand V…

The half-hour presentation includes an analysis of Greenhouse Grower’s 2017 State of the Industry survey, along with insights from horticulture industry leaders.

Read More
North Creek Tim McGinty Steve Castorini

February 24, 2017

AmericanHort Names New Board Members and Officers for 2…

The new board members are Steve Castorani of North Creek Nurseries, Tom Hughes of Hughes Nursery and Landscaping, and Cole Mangum of Bell Nursery.

Read More
EAGL Graduates

February 22, 2017

Emerging Industry Leaders Earn Business Management Cert…

Dr. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair for International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, recently announced the graduation of the fourth cohort of the elite Executive Academy for Growth & Leadership (EAGL) program for nursery and greenhouse growers.

Read More
2016 Top 100 Growers List

February 18, 2017

Top 100 Growers Survey for 2017 Is Now Open!

Operations with more than 400,000 square feet of environmentally controlled production are eligible to take the survey, which only takes a few minutes to complete.

Read More

February 17, 2017

How to Keep Customers Coming Back With Top-Notch Servic…

A recent article on Forbes.com outlines seven ways organizations can take their customer service from good to great and beyond.

Read More