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PMA/United Merger Talks Boil Down To Roll Silbermann and Stenzel Will Play In The Future

Our recent piece PMA And United: To Merge Or Not To Merge? That Is The Question, dealt with many of the issues surrounding the idea of merging our two national produce trade associations. This followed on top of many pieces we have written assessing the issue. You can see many of those pieces here.

As the conversation has proceeded, we can only admire the industry and intelligence so many industry leaders are volunteering to make the resolution of this issue a great success for the trade — whatever outcome might actually represent success. We have, however, grown concerned that the process may be going off track a bit. We do not prejudge the outcome, but we do think it essential that the focus remain strategic.

In other words, everyone needs to take a breather and read their John Marshall. He was the 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the longest serving chief justice and the one whose opinions really set the basis for constitutional interpretation, including that the Court had the power to invalidate an act of the legislature if it conflicted with the Constitution.

In his famous opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland, Marshall expressed a vision of a government that was established in line with great and timeless principles but retained flexibility to meet current needs. In the course of the opinion, he wrote a phrase the still echoes through American constitutional law: “We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.”

Equally, our discussions with too many industry leaders is leading us to fear that the whole issue of merger is boiling down to what roles Bryan Silbermann, currently the President of PMA, and Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United, will play in the merger.

That is inappropriate.

The Pundit has long and deep relationships with both of these men. We would be shocked if we were not in touch with them many years after they are retired from the produce industry. Both have served long and well and clearly both must be treated with respect.

However, whether a merger makes sense for the industry cannot possibly depend on the interests of any individuals.

The industry has now spent well into the six figures on this process and countless man hours of attention that could have been spent elsewhere. Nobody is going to propose that the industry be anything but generous to these two men. But either a merger is the right decision or the wrong one.

If the personal interests of individuals don’t fit with the direction the industry needs to go, then we wish them well, put them on retainer as consultants, buff up their pension plan a bit and go hire a new CEO and COO.

Both gentlemen and their super sharp wives and wonderful families are always welcome as guests in the home of the Pundit. But the board members will find themselves going way off track if they allow such considerations to enter their deliberations.

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