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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Pundit’s Mailbag:
Where’s The Passion?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 6, 2006

The issue of leadership is hot controversy. We started the subject off with a letter to the Pundit, which led to more and more again. Another letter writer weighs in today:

Obviously, any good leader today embraces change and embraces technology. However, not all technology or software is a panacea for an organization, much as no one person is a panacea for an organization. Certainly some people in the industry are a whiz with a computer or at the forefront of RFID; these are operational decisions that any organization will make based upon their view of whether they perceive a value from embracing any technology or not.

I think this discussion of leadership is missing the metaphysical, almost religious nature of leadership. What is often missing in our industry leaders is “passion” in terms of genuine care for this great industry.

All the names you listed are doing great things, and we certainly should not minimize their achievements in any way. Additionally the 40 young people PRODUCE BUSINESS selected last year and 40 more you selected this year have already made significant contributions to the industry. I grant you all that.

However, I haven’t heard from today’s leaders that there is a level of genuine “care” for what makes this industry tick: whether that be the farm worker, the truck driver, the buyer, the store clerk or most certainly the shopper who consumes our products. If I have missed this discussion, then shame on me.

No, I don’t think you’ve missed it. I think there is a long-term trend in which the business is becoming less important to its participants. Part of it is societal.

Businessmen today are likely to have other focuses. I’m rushing back from South Africa to catch the first “Dad’s Club” event at my older son’s school. My wife works, so she can’t be quite the catcher for all problems domestic that my mother and grandmother were. Societal expectations have changed, and that 110% commitment level is much harder to find. It may be bad for the industry but it certainly puts leaders in touch with consumers who are struggling to juggle all the same things.

My grandfather was a member of something called the Scavenger’s Club. I don’t really know much about it but, apparently, in his day in the produce industry in New York, it was common to gather socially with other members of the trade down on the Washington Street Market. Today, there is no demand expressed for Hunts Point to start holding dinner dances. There is more of a divorce between social life and work life.

There also is a tendency to rely on professional staff as the industry became affluent enough to support such a thing. When Bob Carey was asked to be the entire staff of PMA, he was a graduate student at the University of Delaware. If much was going to be done, it was going to be done by volunteer leaders.

Today, between PMA, United and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, the industry has well over 100 people on its payroll to take care of things.

There are fewer people who were born to the trade and, even more important, fewer people who are certain their children will wind up in the business. That reduces commitment levels.

There are a few of us left. Why do you think I am in South Africa? Because the industry needs to be represented, because the future depends on strengthening these relationships, because I can help.

I hope that people with passion will rise to the top and help us lead the industry, but I also hope that the professional staff of these organizations develops the kind of institutional support so that every leader doesn’t have to be a superstar.

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