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Where’s The Face Of The Industry?
Is It The Face Of A PMA Or United Executive Or A Volunteer Leader?

Furthering the conversation on the United/PMA merger breakdown, a person who knows of what she speaks points out that the CEO question — Bryan or Tom — really should not be the question at all:

The soul of any association is its members – those of us born into the produce industry or those who found themselves touched by the passion it brings.

This is about running a business of an association for its members, and if a business would duplicate so many programs, compete for the same membership dollars and bank on an exposition which is a dying business model… just look at FMI. Look at NRA.

I have been on boards of both associations, PMA Foodservice Board and now the United Fresh-Cut Board, and I think combining the best of both associations would be the best for their members and the industry. We all know their strengths and weaknesses.

The CEO issue at hand is a non-issue in my mind. Both CEO’s are going to be retired in 10 years or less, so why not open this up to others? And to be honest, I think limiting an association’s President to 10-year terms would keep the associations from becoming a “Bryan Silbermann Marketing Association” or a “Tom Stenzel United Fresh.”

Where’s the face of the industry? A few of us thought Matt McInerney from Western Growers would be a great candidate.

Look at Mann Packing Company and what we’ve overcome with major tragedy and change in leadership. You’re going to tell me that both of these men are irreplaceable? Because they’re not. No one is.

At Mann Packing, we have a favorite “Darwinism” we share: It’s not the strongest or smartest species that survive; it’s the species that best adapts to change.

We can either embrace it, and plan for it. Or wait for it to come. But it’s coming.

— Gina Nucci
Director of Healthy Culinary Innovation
Mann Packing Co., Inc.
Salinas, California

When Gina writes, her words carry the weight of experience. Along with her sister Lorri Koster, she has lived the whirlwind. In the wake of the death of their brother, Joe, and their father, Don, the Nuccis and the Ramseys — and all the team at Mann Packing — pulled together and the company has, to paraphrase William Faulkner, not merely endured; it has prevailed.

How anyone can look Gina or Lorri in the eye and insist upon any particular man as CEO is beyond us. For their lives provide evidence that though each person contributes uniquely, all are replaceable in business.

This was our position when we wrote A Modest Proposal For Reviving The Merger Of PMA And United, which provided a technical solution for how to pick a CEO when the parties couldn’t agree. We had discussions with many industry leaders, and that proposal was widely accepted as a good technique to pick a leader.

But after everything collapsed, a good percentage of our mail was saying a pox on both their houses, fire both Bryan and Tom and hire a new CEO for the new association.

Then as we detailed in our piece, United/PMA Impasse More Than Just A Decision About A CEO — It Is A Battle For The Soul Of The New Association, it became clear that the whole battle over the CEO was something of a misnomer. Although it was said that everything was agreed to except who should be CEO, in fact the agreement left many things undefined and so the CEO choice became a crucial way of defining what the association would actually become.

That is probably no less true if we picked a third person, but that person would at least come into office without the legacy of being on one side or the other of an industry divide.

Term limits such as Gina suggests are an interesting option. The losses are clear — less experienced CEOs, fewer applicants for a job that can’t be a lifelong career, etc. — but there are benefits as well — fresh blood, new ideas and something that bothers many in the industry that Gina puts her hand on.

The associations have become big businesses, and they are now always marketing themselves. This means they tend to feature staff in high profile ways, often speaking at conferences around the world to show off their expertise, polish and to promote the knowledge they can thus lend to members. The staff is generally excellent and so these presentations are mostly of high quality.

Still, one could argue that the staffs, and especially the CEOs, should take a back seat to the membership, not because the members will necessarily do it better, but because the very opportunity to present at a workshop or general session is educational and part of executive development. The reputational enhancement that comes from such opportunities could accrue to the membership as opposed to the association itself.

Thomas Jefferson famously greeted guests to the White House in his bathrobe as if to say: “I am no grand and mighty monarch. I’m merely the man the people of the United States have hired to administer certain of their affairs.” Such humility won him support but one shouldn’t expect the pajamas to break out in DC or Newark any time soon.

Many thanks to Gina for speaking so profoundly on an issue of such importance.

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