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PMA’s outgoing chair reflects on successful year

When I succeeded Russ Mounce of Sam’s Wholesale Club as PMA’s chair last October, I knew I was in for an amazing year. I’ve been in the PMA leadership ranks for several years, and that was fulfilling. Serving as chair, though, puts things in a different light, and I have to say it has far exceeded my expectations.

Last year, I made the point that we spend a lot of time working “in” our businesses, doing the day-to-day that we have to do for success. And I noted that we all need to spend more time working “on” our businesses, doing the strategic work so we can thrive.JohnOxfordGlobalPicturePMA Chair John Oxford of L&M (second from right) joins members of the PMA Global Development Committee in April 2017 in Colombia for meetings, business roundtables and tours. Oxford said this meeting epitomized some of the highlights of his year as chair: expanding PMA’s global reach, meeting members and learning about their businesses, and working with fellow leaders to help chart PMA’s strategic direction.

The experiences I’ve had this year have allowed me to do that very thing — for myself, for my company and for PMA. Some of the best experiences have been meeting PMA members around the world, building relationships and learning about their businesses, and understanding what’s important to them, both challenges and opportunities. This drove home the idea that having different perspectives from PMA thought leaders throughout the globe and throughout the supply chain creates a synergy that produces stronger insights, builds better businesses and grows the industry.

For example, we held a PMA Global Development Committee meeting in Colombia last spring. We combined the committee work with roundtable discussions and local tours. Members and staff alike came away with greater clarity about our industry — both produce and floral — and the role that PMA can play in helping all members grow and flourish. The work we did there fed into the overall volunteer planning team that was charged with guiding PMA’s vision and direction, which our chair-elect, Jin Ju Wilder, will outline at Fresh Summit in New Orleans.

None of this work “on” PMA would be possible without the more than 400 volunteer leaders who raise issues, offer guidance and often get into the weeds working on various projects for — and with — their fellow members. This thoughtful work by members for PMA and our Center for Growing Talent by PMA (CGTbyPMA) has set the stage for more-targeted programs and services for years into the future.

But we’ve also seen results of their work this year. We’ve produced more than 100 articles on topics from consumer insights to food-safety regulations to technology and global trade. And we’ll see 50 more by the end of the year, giving each of us more information and insight to help us grow our businesses. We know members are responding to this targeted information because PMA web traffic is up almost 25 percent.

Engagement with members is not limited to online resources. We’ve seen overall growth in events, like our Fresh Connections series, which brings local value with a global slant to areas like Mexico, South Africa, China, Brazil, Peru, Chile, the United States and more. The same is true for floral and CGTbyPMA resources and events. Of course, we’re also expecting another fruitful Fresh Summit.

To get access to these resources — in-person and online — more companies are joining PMA across countries and across business types. That is the lifeblood of any association — its members. We come together to do important work that none of us could do alone, such as major research pieces, insights and advice from technology and food safety experts, networking events, and influencing trade and safety regulations that can help facilitate or stymie our businesses. Membership matters to us as individuals, to our companies and to our industry, and I’m thrilled to see those numbers trending up.

The kind of collaboration we see within PMA membership doesn’t stop there. PMA also collaborates with others, including United Fresh, on major issues like ethical sourcing and Listeria. We work with universities to attract the best and brightest to our industry.

When I was elected PMA chair last year, I talked about the need for our industry to focus on strategic marketing and demand creation. It was our leadership that advised us to be more holistic in this area and to develop resources that help us understand the intersection of marketing with everything we do. PMA hired an expert in that area to offer insights on the consumer and the consumer landscape, to enhance existing marketing resources like eat brighter! and to help us all take our marketing efforts to a more sophisticated level.

As I’ve traveled and talked with members, I’ve been impressed by how important PMA is to their businesses. I know it has been in mine. Volunteering has been a rich experience for me personally. And the connections to people and insights from around the world have helped my business. Seeing our industry from this level has also shown me that those connections also build our association and our industry. It has truly been a privilege to serve our industry in this way.

John Oxford, the outgoing chair of PMA, is president and chief executive officer of L&M Cos. in Raleigh, NC.