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Pundit’s Mailbag — Clear Thinking Required On PMA/United ‘Solution’

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 25, 2010

Our broad coverage of the relationship between United and PMA and, specifically, our piece, PMA/United Interests Differ: Solution Offered, brought this letter from an industry leader who once served as Chairman of United:

Excellent article on the PMA/United situation.

You should continue to stimulate thinking on this very important subject.

At some point it will be addressed and new thinking will surface, and I hope it will be borne of practicality and not of desperation.

It will take someone like you to continually challenge the industry to come up with a positive solution.

The industry needs a champion on this subject.

— Al Vangelos
Chief Executive Officer
Sun World International
Bakersfield, California

Stephen D’Arrigo used to always emphasize that when one went into an association meeting, one had to leave his or her corporate hat behind.

Although big companies with decided interests may look to have their representatives on key boards, for the most part these associations only work if people put aside their proprietary interests.

The question really is when they take off their corporate hat, what hat do they put on?

Is it their association hat? Or their industry hat?

There is a tremendous temptation to speak as “Engine Charlie” Wilson, then CEO of General Motors, did during his nomination hearings to be Secretary of Defense during the Eisenhower administration and declare that “…what is good for General Motors is good for the country, and vice a versa.”

But there is no particular reason to think this must be true. It is very plausible that a decision could be bad for a particular association, but good for the industry.

This poses a dilemma because a board member of an association has a certain obligation to that entity.

On the other hand, these associations are created to serve industry purposes so defending the association at the expense of the industry doesn’t seem quite right.

In any case, our sense is that the industry is getting more impatient with the situation.

When we received the latest PTI missive (which we dealt with here) we had a perfect example of PMA, United and, in this case, CPMA, working together harmoniously. Yet there does seem to still be a lot of waste.

After all, didn’t that mean that three separate staffs had to negotiate and vet that letter? Where is the efficiency in that? Can’t we reduce it to one staff per country?

There is no easy answer — but there are substantial reasons to look for better ways.

Economic turmoil is causing industry leaders to seek better efficiency, an activist government causes industry leaders to focus on speaking clearly with one voice, and the expectation that big companies will be called upon to help support United’s new convention venture co-locating with FMI is leading many to ask if there isn’t another way to fund the good work of United on lobbying without a trade show.

We detailed our suggestion here and dealt with some objections raised by Chris Schlect, President at Northwest Horticultural Council, right here.

The idea: Let PMA buy the retail-oriented portion of United’s show and use the money to fund robust government relations program.

What is clear is that we want to move while both associations are healthy so we can act, as Al Vangelos points out, methodically and thoughtfully, not out of desperation.

Many thanks to Al Vangelos and Sun World for helping us address this important topic.

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