PMA, United Fresh merger failure ‘a disappointment’
That seems to be the prevailing sentiment among those who participated in or were pulling for a successful conclusion to merger talks between the United Fresh Produce Association and Produce Marketing Association.
“We virtually agreed on everything other than one point and that was really the leadership of the CEO,” said Ron Midyett, United Fresh chairman-elect and CEO of Apio. “We had agreed upon a process of how we would go about trying to identify that, and went through the process and ended up in a bit of a stalemate.”
Midyett said that a subgroup of the task force charged with trying to fashion the merger interviewed both United Fresh President Tom Stenzel and PMA CEO Bryan Silbermann and could not agree on recommending one over the other to lead the new combined organization.
“From the PMA side, it was pretty much an ultimatum that it had to be Bryan, and from the United side, we couldn’t come to an agreement, and that isn’t the best premise for going in and merging two organizations,” Midyett said.
“We suggested, ‘Why don’t we go out and look at a third party?’ and that wasn’t embraced. And secondly, we said, ‘Well, let’s propose, let’s go on with a co-CEO for a defined amount of time and let (the new board) work with both Bryan and Tom and let them decide after a defined period.
“That was not agreed upon by PMA. They stood firm it had to be Bryan.”
Jan DeLyser, PMA chairman-elect and vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, said she doesn’t see that the merger failed because of just one issue.
“I don’t think there’s any one reason that it didn’t go through,” DeLyser said. “I know it was important to the PMA board that the CEO selection be defined, and it’s our understanding that it was agreed upon in principle as far as selecting the CEO earlier in the year.
“I would say that both organizations had their sights on a goal that they were just working toward doing the best job for the membership and I think in the end the decision was it couldn’t come together as one.”
The two organizations had long been encouraged to find a way to consolidate by many in the industry desiring to have one organization and eliminate overlap of services and duplication of dues. Now that the merger is off, reactions from around the industry reflect those of the key players in the process.
“As a company, and as a board member, I’m disappointed,” said Tony Freytag, in senior management at Crunch Pak Sliced Apples and a United Fresh board member. “A lot of people worked very, very hard and that’s to their credit, so that’s really all we can do at this point.
“We (Crunch Pak) participate with both and will continue to do so.”
Dan’l Mackey Almy, another United Fresh board member and president of DMA Solutions in Texas, is disappointed for an additional reason.
“I know a lot of people don’t agree, but my opinion has been that one association would give our industry a greater chance to increase consumption with a unified voice,” she said.
Some PMA board members contacted said they couldn’t comment.
However, Dennis Gertmenian, founder, retired CEO and current board member of Ready Pac, said a merger is long overdue and should have succeeded.
“Shame on both organizations for not being able to have that merger take place,” he said. “It’s time, and the days are such that there really isn’t room for two large organizations to try to utilize membership resources to keep them going.
“It’s just such a huge strain, on particularly, smaller companies. So I’m quite disappointed, as I’m sure most people are.”
David Dever, CEO of Sun World International and a past United Fresh board member, said he was among those in the industry pushing for the two groups to merge.
"This effort was one that a lot of the large companies -- the ones that really pay a tremendous amount into both organizations, got together and said we need to address it," Dever said. "Not only are we supporting two different entities and it's costing us twice as much money, but they at times have conflicting views and when it comes to our regulatory bodies and our representation in Washington, it's a huge concern when we have two organizations sending two different messages."
Dever praised the task force members for working diligently and coming so close to a workable plan. He believes the stumbling block was the CEO issue and said that after many years and all the other legwork, that outcome is unconscionable.
"Every key value and every key objective that was created by the task force and agreed to by both boards -- everything had been brought together, agreed to, and had been met, including a budget, and to allow this is just unfathomable to me," Dever said. "I think there will be some people that will support one organization and start shying away from the other."
Kenny Lund, vice president of support operations for the Allen Lund Company and a recent addition to the United Fresh Board, offered a different view than most.
"I just think United has more of the perspective from the selling and the growers' side of it, while not completely, while PMA has more of the perspective of the buying of product and selling it to the end consumers," Lund said. "I just think they were trying to do a very difficult thing.
"I think both organizations are very viable and provide great service to the industry and maybe the industry has to accept that."
--Kathy Gibbons, editorial director