Position: CEO
Been with the company: Ten years, fall of 2014
Succeeded: Skip Duemeland, her father

Jill Duemeland fondly recalls her decision not to follow in her father’s footsteps: “Anyone who knows my father, knows he is quite the character. I have distinct memories of him driving me to Highland Acres and he is talking about cap rate. ‘And when the cap rate goes down, the price goes up, and vice versa.’ Every time we were together there was a lesson. ‘Jill, we are going to look at a cabin and you are going to negotiate the price.’ And so I said I am NOT going into real estate, I am NOT going into the family business, I am going to the University of St. Thomas and I’m going into social work or political science.”
Video 32d Skip & Jill

She did attend the University of St. Thomas and during her freshman year they created an undergraduate degree in real estate. “Not many universities have that available as an undergraduate degree. So, I called my dad and told him I was changing my major and getting my undergraduate degree in real estate,” she said. “I was not coming back to Bismarck though, I was going to work in the Twin Cities. I was already dating my husband, and he had a job there.”

She worked in real estate in the Twin Cities and was fortunate to work for some great people who actually became mentors to her. “Then I got a call from my mom that my dad had a heart scare,” said Jill. “Heart disease runs in our family. It hit me like a ton of bricks, who is going to take over this company if something happens to my father? I am a no regrets girl and I felt if I did not move back to be closer to my family I would always regret it. When I told my father I was coming back, he was overjoyed.”

Jill’s great-grandfather started the real estate business when he traveled to North Dakota (from Minnesota), bought a million acres between Jamestown and Bismarck and proceeded to sell it off. It was around the time of the Homestead Act, so he was very successful. Then the Dirty Thirties came along. Since he still had some land, he decided to put some animals on it and found hereford cattle thrived. This developed into several ranching businesses that were passed on to her grandfather. “When my father went to MBA school he realized they could make more of a return by investing in real estate,” Jill explained. “The timing was good – cattle prices were dropping in the eighties so they began slowly investing and building their portfolio in real estate. Our family went back to their roots.”

When Jill returned home, they sold the last 8000 acres of that million acres. “My dad said I knew real estate, not ranching,” she said. “It is easy to have emotional ties to real estate, but business wise it just wasn’t the right move for us to retain it. And when you work on projects you can get so emotionally tied to it, that has been a lesson and a challenge.

About five years after Jill moved back, they started the succession plan. She said there were two key things that helped them. “We are a part of the Prairie Family Business Association and hearing other family’s stories was important for us. We also worked with a consultant who acted as an intermediary when I needed to hear things from my dad’s perspective and he needed to hear things from mine. I’m also part of Vistage North Dakota, a CEO network, that helped us with strategic planning.”

The transition was not all roses and rainbows. “We can look back and see the steps we should have taken chronologically, we stepped on some toes and it was confusing at times for our employees. We thought we had it figured out and then a situation that we had never even thought of would arise and it was confusing and frustrating for me and my dad. That is when we decided we needed to hire a consultant.

“We have a different way of analyzing and putting deals together. He has the ranching background, where things are done with a handshake. I had the more formal education and then practical training from some amazing mentors in the real estate business (when I was in Minneapolis). He was always begging me to come home and now, when he sees how much I learned in Minneapolis working at another firm, he jokes he is going to send me back to learn more!”

Jill’s husband, a chemical engineer, also works for the company. His role is property and construction management. It was a big transition for him to go from a cubicle to working with his wife and father-in-law in a less structured environment. “We had a lot of interesting conversations until everyone found their role in the company,” said Jill.

Jill had this to say when talking about her dad’s exit from the business: “Retirement is different for everyone. Some people golf, some putter around the garage. Right now, the office is my father’s garage. There will come a day when he is not capable of working, but it’s kind of like taking someone’s keys away. How do I tell him he can’t practice real estate anymore?”

A fellow Vistage member had told Jill about this idea and she recently talked with her father about it. He really liked the concept and so, when Jill feels it is time for her dad to ‘hang up the tie’, she will give him the letter he just wrote to himself, telling him it is time to officially retire.

A couple months ago Jill jotted down some notes about their journey – five steps she recommends and wants to share with others. She documented this for when she is in her dad’s shoes and maybe her children will come into the business, or even someone else.

One thing not included in those recommendations is this piece of advice she received several years ago: Jill was trying to decide if she was going to call her dad Skip or dad around the office. She asked the son of a very prominent, national developer what he called his dad in the office. Here was his advice: ‘You know, Jill, you only have one dad. You need to call him dad.’ “From that moment on, I have called him dad. No matter what setting we are in, he is my dad.”

Jill’s Advice to others who may be going into the family business:
– Seek outside help
– Next generation needs to join a CEO network or accountability group
– Leading generation needs to get a new job/title or redefine their job description
– No time like the present – make the transition when the leading generation is alive and well
– Plan ahead, how will the next generation handle becoming the leading generation