(July 25) BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Potato Commission is reaching outside the potato industry to find new leadership.

The Boise-based commission announced July 24 that it had hired Frank Muir, a vice president with ConAgra Foods Inc., Irvine, Calif., as its president and chief executive officer.

Muir, who spent 18 years at ConAgra, will succeed Mel Anderson, who will retire in November after a 16-year term. Most recently, Muir’s responsibilities included managing a $1 billion portfolio of 13 ConAgra brands, including Peter Pan peanut butter, Wesson oil and Van Camp’s beans.

“My expertise and the goals of the Idaho Potato Commission are a great match, and I am eager to provide new leadership to this fine organization,” Muir said in a news release.

He could not be reached for additional comment.

The commission had about 150 applicants for the position, from inside and outside the potato and produce industries, said Jeff Raybould, the commission’s board chairman.

Muir’s background in guiding brand names was important, given the commission’s years of work to associate Idaho with potatoes in the minds of consumers, Raybould said.

“We were looking for somebody who had experienced promoting a branded product,” Raybould said. “We were looking for somebody with management experience and leadership skills and who had a food background. Frank had the best of all these skills.”

The state funds the commission with assessments based on 10 cents per cwt. The commission’s budget for 2003 is $10.6 million.

Muir also worked with the R.T. French Co.’s potato division in Idaho Falls from 1983-85. He began his career at General Mills, Minneapolis, in 1981 and stayed there two years.

“He had a team of 24 people working under him,” Raybould said. “We did extensive background checks with his superiors and his subordinates, and it appeared to us that he was an excellent leader.”

Not being a potato industry insider should not be a hindrance to Muir, said Eric Wahlen, general manager of Pleasant Valley Potato Inc., a shipping operation based in Aberdeen.

“The commission does a lot of good things for Idaho, but everything can always be improved,” Wahlen said. “A lot of people don’t see all the behind-the-scenes stuff that the Idaho Potato Commission does, but as a fresh shipper, I think they do more than people realize. Some of these other states have really come on and given Idaho a run for it’s money, and I think it’s more important now than probably it’s ever been.”

Raybould said that the new CEO would have to face tough tests at a time when various state commodity boards find themselves under challenge in the courts.

“I think we need to take a proactive approach and get out there and be doing the kind of job that the industry will support and not be giving them a reason to look at trying to do away with the commission,” he said. “We wanted to put someone in there that we thought would have the confidence of those in the industry, and we think Frank can very quickly show the industry that he is that individual.”

ConAgra VP named Idaho Potato Commission CEO
Frank Muir will succeed Mel Anderson, who is retiring in November after a 16-year term.