Hailing Faga for superb job at NAMA's helm

by Morton Sosland
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A good trade association not just reflects positively on the industry it serves. It also must be helpful to individual member companies as well as the industry at large in dealing with an array of arenas. In effect, the excellent trade association wins the regard of its members by handling difficult issues addressed in a singularly persuasive voice. Its success is best measured by the degree to which member companies treat the association as a strong arm ready to provide information and guidance.

Many approaches to these goals have been pursued by associations in the food industry. Few have done it as well as the North American Millers’ Association. When it comes to praising NAMA for what it has accomplished, the light shines on Elizabeth A. (Betsy) Faga, who has served as president from this organization’s founding in April 1998. Just recently, Ms. Faga announced she will retire in the spring/summer of 2010, prompting a look at her 12-year career at NAMA’s helm.

What Ms. Faga has achieved is all the more remarkable in light of what was required of her as the first manager of this "new" association. She was chosen as the initial president in the wake of intense negotiations and study as to how grain milling should be represented, not just in its many-sided relationships with the federal government, but nationally and even internationally. Choosing Ms. Faga to head the newly-minted NAMA, formed from the merger of the Millers’ National Federation, the American Corn Millers’ Association and Protein Grain Products International, was among the most important decisions made at that start. Joining a year later was the American Oat Association. NAMA is now doing a highly praised job of serving the needs of companies with the common mission of making the major ingredients of grain-based foods.

It is accomplishment enough that Ms. Faga has made NAMA work. At its formation, more than a few milling executives wondered how someone whose experience had mainly been in promoting products like bulgur and corn-soya mixes for foreign aid could lead members whose business is primarily domestic. Sure, some executives recalled, Ms. Faga had begun her career with flour milling in 1970 as a neophyte staffer at the M.N.F. But, they said, she had left wheat milling in favor of trying her hand with corn millers and also with specialty manufacturers. It was with grace and speed as well as powerful awareness that she not only overcame such questions, but managed to build NAMA with thoughtful balance into the very successful, but different association from what its founding constituents were.

In announcing her retirement, Ms. Faga won high praise from NAMA’s chairman, John C. Miller, who noted, "We always felt that under Betsy we get more representation in Washington than a group our size could expect." And while NAMA’s location signifies the importance of governmental affairs, her parallel focus on outreach to others important to milling ranks with how she has dealt with legislative and regulatory matters. She has made sure NAMA is allied with other food manufacturers, especially the American Bakers Association and Grocery Manufacturers Association. Perhaps her most noteworthy building was in working with the National Association of Wheat Growers and related groups in setting up the Wheat Summit aimed at serious-minded examination of issues that could sharply divide but are finally wrapped in consensus.

Hailing Ms. Faga for the fine job she has done in behalf of food grain millers is an easy task considering that she is not just the first NAMA leader, but uniquely is the first woman to head a major association across the grain-based foods industry. Being a woman gave her no special insights into how best to run an association of companies that have very few female chief executives. Just like any successful executive, she has quietly exercised skillful leadership and achieved an excellent outcome to the great benefit of NAMA’s members and friends.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, July 28, 2009, starting on Page 7. Click here to search that archive.

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