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Pundit’s Mailbag — Good Ol’ Fashioned Produce Candor Needed 

Our work on the United/PMA merger issue has brought many letters, including this one:

Brilliant insight, as always. I’m still scratching my head at what took place on my watch.

I wish good ol’ fashioned produce candor had been the driving force of the negotiations, only because I never learned differently.

Maybe this Amish guy needs to find new dinosaurs to play with.

Thank you for your leadership!!

—Fred Williamson
Andrew & Williamson
San Diego, California

We appreciate the kind words, but we don’t think that a lack of honesty has really been the main problem. The task force members really came to work together closely, and a great deal of trust was built up.

Although everyone knew the CEO issue would be a tough one, everyone seemed to think that, somehow, they would figure out a way to overcome the issue.

At the end, a lot of the trust was dissolved. PMA’s decision to give an ultimatum or end the talks was shocking to the United team. They saw it as a breakdown in trust as they expected to continue to work to find a solution. After all, it wasn’t until the very end that PMA made Bryan’s ascent to the CEO role a condition.

On the other hand, the aggressiveness with which United tried to pitch its position to the trade after the talks collapsed left many PMA board members aghast. They thought there was an agreement to issue a joint statement at the end simply stating that the two associations had agreed to halt talks aimed at the merger and, instead, would each be moving forward to explore ways to collaborate effectively on behalf of their respective members.

United board members, however, felt that they were being asked to lie. They hadn’t “agreed” to end the talks; that was PMA’s decision. United board members also felt the industry should know that both boards agreed that the merger would be desirable and what caused the breakdown in negotiations.

It is a tough call. On the one hand, United’s desire for greater transparency is commendable. On the other hand, probably nobody would negotiate with anyone if they thought that, at the end, differences wouldn’t be papered over.

To us, the tragedy is that both sides thought they were the court of last appeal. If stuck in an impasse, surely the right approach would be to turn to others for insight and input.

There is not a reason in the world why, at the end, the industry couldn’t have been informed on how talks had progressed, explained where the difficulties remained and consulted on how these things could be resolved.

It was not dishonesty but, rather, a penchant for secrecy that kept things under wraps. Of course, such closed vessels sometimes explode and make a big mess, and that is what happened in this case.

Many thanks to Fred Williamson for his kind words and frank comments.

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