An outside observer may wonder if it is an inherently ominous sign that no one seems to want to talk about a potential merger between the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association.
You will find no board member frankly addressing the “pros” and “cons” of a possible merger, only circumspect, jointly-issued comments about a “member driven” process that will devote “due diligence” in the commitment to maximize synergies and efficiencies, et cetera, et cetera. Yawn.
This lack of articulation by industry leaders of both groups is somewhat telling, revealing that this prospective merger is likely dead on arrival.
Although perhaps similar in some respects to the Congressional “super committee” - the joint committee on deficit reduction - the members of the joint PMA-United task force looking at the potential of merging aren’t compelled to find a solution or propose cost savings to the industry. Perhaps it would have been better if the joint task force was charged with cutting x amount from the combined budgets (about $22 million) of the two associations; that mandate certainly would add he urgency to the discussions, not to mention the drama of an up or down vote.
I can’t help but contrast the ho-hum vibe about the association discussions to the days when I was a team owner and general manager in the Johnny Unitas Football League, a now-defunct fantasy football league that many in The Packer office participated in.
The best thing about “playing” fantasy football was the wheeling and dealing that began soon after the league matches began.
I remember one year when I drafted three top tier quarterbacks in the first three rounds, thinking I would surely be in a position of power when some sad sack team that was busy drafting stud running backs realized I snapped up more than my fair share of the elite signal callers in the NFL. That season turned out to be a train wreck, as the ill-fated trades to deal my reserve quarterbacks netted me aging running backs and receivers with lingering hamstring issues.
After several fruitless seasons of fantasy football, I did bring finally home the Johnny Unitas football championship pewter mug on the arm of Brett Farve and the hands and feet of Jerry Rice.
Transitioning from those glory days to the here and now - and in the selfish interest of perking up industry dialogue of the potential benefits of a merger between United and PMA - why not imbue the process with elements of fantasy football?
Rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an outside facilitator to work with PMA and United leadership, why not have six “rank and file” members of each association be responsible for drafting a winning association. Winning” would be defined as a financially strong national produce association that speaks with one voice on industry issues.
The draft would consist of events, staff, resources and office locations. Each participant would draw a number out of a hat to see who would go first. Somehow create a “salary cap” by adding the budgets of both associations and dividing by two.
Given this preposterous premise, what would the first draft pick be spent on?
Fresh Summit, perhaps? Or does the Washington Public Policy Conference climb the draft board?
Would the stadium be in Newark, Del. or on Pennsylvania Ave, in Washington, D.C.?
Who is the “franchise” QB? Is it Tom Stenzel or Bryan Silbermann?
Who totes the food safety rock? Bob Whitaker or Dave Gombas?
The point of the exercise is to render all elements of the associations’ service to the industry “up for grabs.” Given that scenario, how does the bill-paying industry member value what each association does?
Yes, this completely fanciful and contrived idea has plenty of flaws. The average member has no idea, it might be argued, about the inner workings of a produce association. But I think the collective industry wisdom would surprise us.
If nothing else, perhaps the 12 first round picks of the fantasy association draft could serve as a beginning template for discussions of what a unified national produce association should look like.
And then the wheeling and dealing can begin in earnest.