This Family Farm Is Here To Stay


Family Business Quarterly
Northeastern University Center for Family Business
Interview with Jim and Don Wilson
By David E. Gumpert
Gumpert Communications, Inc.

In our fast-paced online and wireless world, we can easily forget that there was a simpler time in the early and middle twentieth century when Lexington, MA and the surrounding towns were family farm communities. Those farms were mostly unable to cope with the emergence of suburbia and have disappeared, their lands turned into suburban homes. Except for Wilson Farms. In its early days a nondescript member of the community of small farms, Wilson Farms is today planning for involvement of the fifth generation of Wilsons. It is at once an agrarian artifact and a retailing powerhouse. In an average week, 16,000 customers seek out its fresh produce, flowers, and prepared foods. In this interview with Family Business Quarterly editorial advisor David E. Gumpert, two generations of the Wilson Farms family, Don, (72) and his son, Jim (49), ponder the richness of the farmÕs history and the challenges associated with preserving that history for future generations of the family. More…

Why is the Top of Jim Coghlin’s Head Shiny? Because He’s a Bright Guy

Why is the Top of Jim Coghlin’s Head Shiny?
Because He’s a Bright Guy

To not only let a 112-year-old family business prosper, but to increase sales volume by 20 times, you must be doing something right.

Jim Coghlin has grown the Worcester-based Coghlin Companies from $3 million to $60 million in his 30 years with the firm.

Coghlin stressed the importance of mentoring: not only from family executives, but also from an outside board and groups like the Young Presidents Association that let newer managers “Bare your soul in confidential high-level discussions.”

Now, with two of his own children in executive positions within the firm, Coghlin sees more of his role as mentoring them. Some of the lessons he tries to pass on:

  • Divide your days into focus days–8 of 10 working hours dedicated to a task–buffer days for catching up on administrative tasks, and free days–mini vacations just before a focus day.
  • Pursue three 90-day goals at a time.
  • Concentrate on high-payoff activities to achieve those goals. For instance, when setting priorities for customer contact, go after the one that will result in the largest check.
  • Spend as much time as possible in the field (Coghlin doesn’t have an office, only a meeting room).
  • “Delegate everything except what is your genius”–the part of your work that contains your passion, and that others can’t do as well.
  • Build key relationships. If there’s conflict, ask the other person, “‘What has to have happened in three years to make this relationship successful?’ If they don’t answer, they don’t trust you. If they do answer, you know exactly what has to happen.”
  • Finally, keep your commitments–be someone others will trust: be on time, do what you say you’ll do, finish the tasks, and say please and thank you.

Reprinted with permission of the UMass Family Business Center, online at