Successful transitions great source of pride for milling
BakingBusiness.com, Nov. 12, 2013
by Josh Sosland
As has been its tradition for decades, the North American Millers’ Association chose Washington as the site for its first annual meeting after a presidential election. Per usual, the agenda of this year’s meeting was chock-full of legislative and regulatory issues of concern to milling, ranging from how the farm bill debate might play out to the slowly unfolding regulations emerging under the Food Safety Modernization Act. Impressive was the manner in which NAMA crafted an agenda offering substantive presentations on such a broad array of issues. Making the quality of the programming even more impressive, though, was the fact that NAMA and the industry it serves progressed so well in a period of change arguably as dramatic as ever in its 111-year history.

Annals of milling and baking trade groups offer numerous examples of business leaders stepping in to fill a void created by the sudden departure of an association president, but there is no precedent for the experience during the past year of NAMA’s chairman, James M. Meyer. While he has been a member of the NAMA board since 2005 and served on several committees, Mr. Meyer, who heads the U.S. business of Italgrani S.p.A., would concede the depth of his experience with NAMA was limited when he was added to the Executive Committee and elected NAMA vice-chairman just a year ago. The practice in the past had been for members with a few years’ Executive Committee experience to be elevated to vice-chairman. What was expected to be an unusually brief two-year period for Mr. Meyer to assume leadership was shortened dramatically when NAMA’s new chairman, Greg Schlafer, left milling and resigned from NAMA only 10 weeks after taking the group’s gavel. The challenge for Mr. Meyer and NAMA rose to an entirely new level, though, when Mary K. Waters resigned abruptly as NAMA president two weeks later.

In the months that followed, Mr. Meyer credited NAMA staff for their focus and “really coming to the fore.” While he received guidance and support from fellow members of the Executive Committee, it was Mr. Meyer himself who remarkably stepped up, assuming a role that could best be described as interim president. His willingness to take weekly trips to Washington for the nine months until NAMA’s president, James McCarthy, was identified, hired and began work, was extraordinary. A long-time miller, expressing his appreciation for Mr. Meyer’s decision to take such an active role said, “We were extremely lucky. It was a moment in time we desperately needed a workhorse as chairman rather than just a show horse.”

The quality of what transpired behind the scenes in the past several months was on display at the annual meeting in the excellence of the programming, the ease with which Mr. McCarthy assumed his new role and by a heightened spirit of solidarity that was strikingly evident. At the meeting, NAMA leaders heeded many pressures the industry faces, from government, the economy, the shifting consumer marketplace and internally, including the transition now under way in its skilled but aging workforce. A related change much in evidence was the welcome presence of a new generation of leaders representing four of the remaining family-owned milling companies.

Of all the pending transitions overhanging the meeting, hardly anything matches in its ultimate importance the creation of Ardent Mills through the combination of Horizon Milling L.L.C. and ConAgra Mills. Still awaiting regulatory approval, this new business will change the complexion of milling and has significant ramifications for NAMA. Sight was not lost of the way that this new entity’s impact parallels the consolidation experienced in the past year by wholesale baking. The election of Dan Dye, the designated c.e.o. of Ardent, as NAMA vice-chairman, represented an important affirmation of the future. That a spirit of genuine optimism about milling prevailed amid such massive change surely speaks volume about the industry’s core strengths and bright future.