News

Son taking over Tillsonburg fertilizer business following death of parents in plane crash

By Hank Daniszewski, The London Free Press

Matthew Esseltine is the new president and chief operating officer of AgroSpray Ltd., a private family-owned custom fertilizer business based in Tillsonburg. Statistics show most family businesses don’t make it through a second generation, but preparation helped AgroSpray survive unexpected loss. CHRIS ABBOTT / TILLSONBURG NEWS

Matthew Esseltine is the new president and chief operating officer of AgroSpray Ltd., a private family-owned custom fertilizer business based in Tillsonburg. Statistics show most family businesses don’t make it through a second generation, but preparation helped AgroSpray survive unexpected loss. CHRIS ABBOTT / TILLSONBURG NEWS

Matthew Esseltine always planned to take over his family business, AgroSpray Ltd., in Tillsonburg.

But tragedy accelerated that plan.

His mother, Jane, the company’s vice-president, wanted to spend another five years in the business.

His father, Phil, would ease out after about 10 years.

But last fall the couple were killed when their private plane crashed Nov. 9 while they were flying back from their family cottage near Parry Sound.

It was a huge loss not only for the family, but also for Tillsonburg because the Esseltines were pillars of the community, serving on the chamber of commerce, the hospital board and Junior Achievement.

While enduring family-owned businesses can last for generations, statistics show most don’t make it through a second generation and the numbers fall off quickly after that. Lack of proper succession planning — the orderly business of preparing for a handoff — is often a factor.

But AgroSpray, the family’s custom fertilizer business goes on, headed by Matthew, who shares ownership with his sisters Claire and Lisa. Over the last 10 years his parents groomed their son through a succession of jobs at the company.

“It wasn’t spur of the moment. We talked about it — it was something I wanted to pursue,” said Esseltine.

A succession plan is crucial for a family-operated business, especially when tragedy unexpectedly strikes, says David Simpson, director of the Business Families Centre at the Ivey School of Business in London.

“You are facing family stress, and you have the business stress on top of it.”

Simpson said the Esseltine family did everything right in ensuring a smooth succession, talking about a plan, ensuring their son had the right experience and keeping employees in the loop.

“If the family member taking over doesn’t have skills or merit, the succession plan can be undermined by the employees,” said Simpson.

Esseltine studied business, marketing and construction technology at Fanshawe College before joining AgroSpray full-time in 2006.

Founded in London by Esseltine’s grandfather, Jack Lanthier, in 1959, the company moved to Tillsonburg in the 1970s and grew steadily over the years, with a major market in tobacco farms. The company has grown to 12 employees and focuses on custom blended liquid fertilizer, fumigant and custom fumigation services, parts, equipment and service.

AgroSpray has 500 clients, mainly in southern Ontario but the company is also picking up clients in the western provinces.

hank.daniszewski@sunmedia.ca

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