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Pundit’s Mailbag — Pivonka Sheds Light On PBH’s Decision-Making Process

Our piece, Complaints From PBH’s Board Members Point To Weakness In Governance brought this letter to our in-box:

Thank you for your initial positive response to our Imagination Farms alliance. I too thought it was a positive step. I received, as did you, some responses expressing concern about it. Those concerns brought to light an important topic that we’d not yet fully considered before. Several PBH executive committee members were in discussion about this and we convened a conference call of the full executive committee to further discuss it. It was important to understand the concerns surrounding our intentions with Imagination Farms so that we could develop a policy to help guide future actions at PBH.

You called into question PBH’s governance structure, however, and as an organization that is PARTICULARLY conscientious about proper process, I believe you need further background on this front. There was a point in time many years ago where our board approval process was a bit unwieldy, but we recognized it, corrected it, and have continued to refine our decision-making process to the point where it works quite well. In fact, I’d be happy to send our Board Positions, Policies & Procedures Manual to you outlining committee structure and responsibilities, strategic/business planning processes, and current policies/procedures. We view our large Board of Trustees as a significant strength, not a governance weakness.

Obviously we can’t seek board approval on everything that we do, and we’re bound to make some unpopular choices, but we can learn from them and set or refine policies to guide us in the future. That is what we are in the process of doing related to this situation.

— Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., R.D.
President & CEO
Produce for Better Health Foundation
Wilmington, Delaware

We received this letter along with the memo that PBH sent to its trustees which we published under the title of pBH Reassesses Imagination Farms Decision. This all came about after we published Imagination Farms/Disney Garden Score Big With PBH and Pixar, which focused on the success Imagination Farms has had in a variety of ways, including what struck us as a coup for Imagination Farms. As we wrote:

Don Goodwin — the other founder of this venture (Imagination Farms) along with Matthew Caito — must think he died and went to heaven. After pioneering the non-transactional produce company model with Green Giant Fresh, which provided little support as it never recognized the value of the halo effect its canned and frozen items could gain from an effective fresh program, he suddenly finds himself with the opportunity to tie in with PBH, with movies and a lot more coming.

Although we never wrote about whether the “alliance” was a good deal for PBH, we thought and we still think it was a coup for Imagination Farms and, obviously, its competitors agreed, because we received many calls and letters, one of which we published under the title Pundit’s Mailbag –PBH/Imagination Farms Alliance Questioned. The letter came from a long time PBH supporter who was furious that PBH had aligned itself with a direct competitor.

Very quickly, enough Board Members and members of PBH’s Executive Committee looked at the situation and demanded a change. This was what the piece, pBH Reassesses Imagination Farms Decision, was all about.

The Pundit always welcomes information, so we will look forward to receiving the PBH Board Manual Elizabeth references. A while back there was a shift of power to the smaller Executive Committee from the larger whole Board and this did make decision making easier.

As far as a large Board being an asset, that can be true, but no board or executive committee, regardless of size, can provide much valuable input if they are not asked to take part in important decisions.

Clearly, one thing this situation has brought to the surface is that the members of the PBH Executive Committee and the broader PBH Board both want more decisions brought to the volunteer leadership. Certainly, anything important enough to be labeled a “strategic alliance” should be brought to the board, which is, after all, charged with determining strategy.

We think that lesson has been learned, however, as the Executive Committee has been pretty clear on this issue.

Of course it is said that one should be careful what one wishes for as one just might get it. And the Executive Committee and Board will increasingly have to wrestle with a contradiction at the heart of PBH: Although PBH is mostly funded and governed by the fresh produce industry, it is only coincidentally involved in making the fresh produce industry more prosperous.

The new focus is an equal opportunity promoter for canned, frozen and juice, and we expect conflicts there.

The bigger issue — and what is really behind the contretemps over the Imagination Farms Alliance — is that PBH depends on produce companies for money, but it is charged with improving public health. If PBH was funded by health insurance companies, you can bet Mickey Mouse would be going up on the web site.

If it is any consolation to Elizabeth, these types of conflicts are common as we start to think about using these characters to promote healthy things. The Department of Health and Human Services selected the character known as Shrek to be the symbol of its anti-obesity drive. But now an advocacy group is outraged because he is tied in with promoting junk food:

…“Shrek the Third,” which opens May 18, has promotional deals with dozens of food products, including Mars Inc.’s Snickers and M&M’s candy; PepsiCo Inc.’s Sierra Mist drink; and Kellogg Co.’s Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its and Keebler cookies.

The film also has a tie-in with McDonald’s; there will be Shrek-themed promotions of Happy Meals, and DreamWorks will create animation for some McDonald’s commercials.

“Why would young children follow Shrek’s advice about healthy living and ignore his entreaties to eat Happy Meals and Pop-Tarts?” Linn wrote. “If government agencies are serious about combating childhood obesity, they should stop cozying up to industry and start taking real steps to end the barrage of junk food marketing aimed at children.”

A little lamely but emblematic of the difficulties these areas pose, HHS tries to explain itself:

Penelope Royall, the HHS deputy assistant secretary for disease prevention and health promotion, stressed that the public services ads were using Shrek to promote exercise, not foods.

“Shrek is a good model, especially for children who can benefit from more exercise,” Royall said. “He doesn’t have a perfect physique, he’s not a great athlete… We hope children will understand that being physically fit doesn’t require being a great athlete.”

These types of decisions are inevitably judgment calls. Elizabeth and the staff at PBH have always worked very hard to help the industry. By using the Board and Executive Committee to give more input, that hard work will be more certain to result in a pay off for the industry and the public health.

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