Pundit’s Mailbag —
In Support Of Rob Robson
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 15, 2006
We received a letter from the Produce Marketing Association’s recently installed Chairman of the Board:
Peter was installed as chairman of the board at PMA’s recent convention in San Diego, California. He was associated with Hannaford Bros. for many years, actually having been hired by Dave Diver, a columnist for the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS. Recently, he formed Pinnacle Sales & Marketing, which, among other things, is focused on providing regional representation for small to medium size growers.
So Peter straddles the world. In his business he focuses on the micro picture of providing representation in one region; with his PMA hat on, he focuses on global perspectives. It is an interesting contrast and tells a tale of why nobody should think their company is too small to justify getting involved with industry associations. Many times it is precisely the smaller guys who benefit the most from exposure to new people, new ideas and new ways of thinking.
The issue of the relationship between U.S.-based trade associations and non-American members is still uncertain. And Rob Robson poses an interesting case as his company does little, if any, business with the U.S.
It is clear that non-U.S. companies, to the extent that they do business with the U.S., have both the interest and the motivation to sustain involvement and that U.S-based trade associations — especially PMA, with its emphasis on marketing — can provide a great service to these companies.
So, for example, a Chilean grape shipper may sell such a large percentage of his crop in the U.S. that, for all practical purposes, he considers the U.S. his “domestic” market. For that shipper to be actively involved with a U.S. trade association is a no brainer. Ironically, though, many of these types of firms are not involved. Sometimes this is because they have close relationships with others in the U.S., so they feel that their importer will tell them what they need to know or because the high volume of business supports a separate organization such as the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.
Rob Robson’s home country, Australia, is an unusual case. It has a relatively small population that maintains a sophisticated western economy, and it is very distant from most of the nations with which it shares an ethnic and cultural heritage. Not large enough to sustain institutions on the scale of a PMA but not content to be isolated from world class institutions, somehow, the business people of Australia have gotten used to jetting off all over the world, especially to America, to learn.
It is not just a produce or food industry phenomenon. I remember on my trip to Australia sitting on the airplane next to a guy who owned a chain of beach/surfer wear shops all over Australia. And he flew twice a year to America to see what styles were hot, what the stores were doing, etc.
It was interesting that at the recent PMA convention in San Diego, the largest single contingent from outside North America was Australia. Considering the Australian population of only 20 million, this is wildly disproportionate. And considering the very, very small scale of produce trade between the two countries, it is astonishing.
What it tells me is that Australians, almost uniquely, interchange with our industry in the U.S. for their own education and not, particularly, to capitalize on trade opportunities. This involvement so motivates people that at the Australian/New Zealand reception at PMA, there must have been well over a million dollars in airfare alone represented.
One wonders if PMA shouldn’t look at setting up an Australia/New Zealand Chapter. This might be an opportunity to use the two-tier funding mechanism the Pundit suggested in our discussion about the prospect of PMA/United merger talks. Basically PMA would collect membership dues and rebate, say, half, to the Australia/New Zealand Chapter of the Produce Marketing Association. This would hook the produce industry down under into all the information and activity of PMA, while giving them funds and structure to maintain a strong local association that can run activities and programs while drawing on PMA expertise and resources.
Without a doubt, an international perspective adds a great deal to the PMA Board. A growth in international membership, however, may run head on into PMA’s moves to enhance its role in government relations. Yes, there are trade relations issues that would certainly apply to both sides, but almost by definition, government relations is a domestic matter. This is a conundrum for the future.
A PMA chairman from overseas is feasible. With technology, today, it is certainly easy enough to keep in touch. Just look at the Pundit as an example. It wasn’t that long ago, people had to wait for air mail shipments of paper publications — now they can read the Pundit in Australia the same instant they do in Newark, Delaware.
But it is not without obstacles. There is an expectation that a PMA chairman will be at many domestic events. Somebody else would get the work of substituting.
And time differences pose problems as well. Yes, teleconferences, video-conferences, etc., are all easy. I’m sure Rob will get up any hour needed to participate.
But Rob is an exceptional guy; thus a great one to be the first non-North American to serve on the executive committee of PMA. To prevent communication difficulties with Rob, the Pundit has searched far and wide and felt it essential to make this prezzy available to the trade.