As it does every two years, the Western Growers membership is approaching election season for its Board of Directors. Western Growers is one of the very few produce industry associations that elects the lion’s share of its Board in competitive races with a plurality vote picking the winner.
In practice, each Western Growers Regular Member dedicates a member of its ownership and/or senior management team to be its official voting representative. Every other year, there is an election for the members to choose their representative or the multiple representatives from each of the 13 districts as defined by the map accompanying this story. (At one point there were 14 districts but two were combined many years ago, eliminating District #3.)
WG Assistant Vice President of Membership Kim Sherman said each of those company representatives are eligible to be nominated for the Board, and in fact each will appear on the ballot unless they specifically ask to be left off.
“We have 36 Members from the roles of Regular Members elected to the Board by the membership and another six At-Large Members elected by the Executive Committee and the Board itself,” she said. “In addition, two members from the Affiliate Member category are elected to represent that class of membership.”
Sherman said that the “At-Large Board Member” slots have been historically used to bring added diversity to the Board with regard to geographic and commodity balance.
“Over the years, our Board roster has read like a who’s who in the western produce industry,” Sherman said. “The most prominent members of the industry have served on our Board.”
The Board also is well known for its multi-generational continuity. No member can literally pass on their seat to the next generation in the family, but over the decades there are many examples of two and three generations of the same family serving on the Western Growers Board.
As mentioned above a unique aspect of the WG Board, compared to other industry associations is that members are elected by their peers. While the election does not rival the sparring that takes place in a political race, many potential Board members do solicit votes from their fellow district members and “run” for the position. In fact, Sherman said the Western Growers Board encourages members to actively get involved in the association, including potentially serving on the Board. Of course, it requires a time commitment and the ability to leave your company hat at home and put the needs of the industry as a whole front and center. “No member remains on the ballot without their approval,” said Sherman, “but we always strive to have multiple choices for each position, and we encourage members to run as their district representative.”
There is also always an option for a Write-In candidate, making the Western Growers Board of Directors election as fair as it gets in running a democratic election.
John Manfre, Partner/Manager of Frank Capurro & Son LLC, Moss Landing, CA, is stepping down from the Board and is choosing not to run for re-election after 16 years of service. His perspective as a retiring long-serving Board member is an interesting one. “I made the decision to step down as I have had my turn,” he said. “There are a lot of well-qualified people in my district, and I have told Western Growers [staff] that I do not want to be on the ballot this year.”
Manfre said that while re-election every year was not guaranteed there were several very capable members in his district that chose not to run because he was on the ballot. “The first thing I did after making my decision was to contact several people in my district and tell them that I am not running this year and to be sure they put their names on the ballot, if they are interested.”
The Capurro executive said he was first approached to run for a Board position in the 1990s “but it wasn’t the right time for me. I had younger kids and didn’t want to make the time commitment.”
In the early 2000s, he noted that Western Growers made important changes and was taking a very progressive and active position on many issues important to Manfre. “That was a tipping point for me…and my kids were college age, so I decided to run,” he said. “I was surprised that I won but I was very happy to have been elected and I am very happy that I have been able to win re-election ever since.”
Manfre noted that in earlier times, there was a perception that the Board Members were part of an “old boys club” but that was not the situation he found upon joining the group. And it has not been true ever since. “I was on the Executive Committee for several terms during my tenure and I was on the Audit Committee almost every year,” he said. “I saw the inner workings of the board and audited the elections. There is a lot of work that goes into being a Board Member and it is truly a dedicated group of individuals who do leave their company hat at the door. Obviously, you have a lot of heavy hitters on the Board, but when we are debating issues everyone is talking about the betterment of the industry and the association not their own companies.”
He added that many different viewpoints are typically aired for every debate. For example, he said when discussing the concept of a two-year Chair, the argument that an incoming Chair is just getting a lay of the land when their term expires is a powerful viewpoint that Manfre said makes perfect sense. “I know during my first term, I mostly listened. It takes time to get up to speed.”
On the other hand, he said it was also noted that asking the Chair to make a two-year term necessarily eliminates some people from consideration who just can’t make that commitment because of their own company situation. Manfre said this debate was typical of Board discussions that tried to examine every issue and pick the decision that was best for the industry and the association.
He noted that it has been a great experience personally to serve on the board. “The people that I have met that I never would have known and the relationships that I have formed are priceless,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about the industry and have been exposed to many different opinions. I definitely got more out of Western Growers than I have ever given. I leave hoping I made a good contribution.”
He also leaves excited about the new ideas that are surfacing from some of the young leaders and knows that his district will be represented well by whoever wins the next election.
Over the long history of Western Growers, the board members have always been elected for two-year terms and for the first time ever, the officers’ terms are following suit as Manfre noted. WG President and CEO Dave Puglia said the unprecedented situation that occurred because of coronavirus restrictions soon after Ryan Talley of Talley Farms became Chairman of the Board in 2020 led the board to elect him for consecutive terms in 2021.
“Given the wide scope of work the association performs on behalf of the industry and the breadth and diversity of the WG Family of Companies, for many of us—both staff and our board leaders—just as a new Chair is fully acclimated, a new Chair takes over,” Puglia said. “While the pandemic compelled us to extend Ryan’s term for another year, our experiences in his two years as chair confirmed what we had been thinking for a long time: A two-year term offers the Chair a greater opportunity to bring the full measure of his or her leadership to this organization and our industry.”
WG Senior Vice President and General Counsel Jason Resnick, who also serves as the Board Secretary, said along with the addition of the two-year term for members of the Executive Committee (EC), the Board also eliminated two positions on EC—Past-Past Chair and one of the two Vice Chairs—and replaced those slots with two at-large Executive Committee Members.
Resnick said that the change was made for a very practical reason: to limit the Chair’s commitment to a leadership post to six years rather than expanding it to 10 years. He explained that under the previous system, a Board member moving into a leadership post was asked to make a five-year commitment to the Executive Committee as the member moved through the officer positions in order: Vice Chair, Senior Vice Chair, Chair, Past Chair and Past-past Chair. Two-year terms would have doubled that commitment. Under the new procedure, the members will be asked to make a six-year commitment: two years each as Vice Chair, Chair and Past chair.
The two at-large Executive Committee members will join the Treasurer and Executive Secretary positions as slots that do not require extensive commitments to the EC. Resnick said the Board wanted to keep an eight-member Executive Committee to give the full Board the advantage of having an EC that is large enough to represent a wide variety of views and fully vet issues that come before it.
Western Growers Governance Update
At the March 24, 2022, Western Growers Board of Directors meeting in Phoenix, the Board voted to amend the Western Growers Bylaws. Here are some of the notable changes that were approved by the Board:
Reconstitution of the Executive Committee
Previously, the Western Growers Executive Committee was comprised of eight positions: Chairman of the Board, Senior Vice Chairman, Vice Chairman, Treasurer, Executive Secretary, Past Chairman, Past-Past Chairman, and President/CEO.
Effective March 24, 2022, the Executive Committee is made up of the following eight positions: Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer, Executive Secretary, Past Chair, President, and two Members-At-Large.
Previously, except for the President and CEO who serves at the pleasure of the Board, the officers were elected for a one-year term and annually elected by the Board. Accordingly, the Board approved the reconstituted Executive Committee to serve for two-year terms as follows:
Chair – Albert Keck
Vice Chair – Stuart Woolf (formerly Senior Vice Chairman)
Treasurer – Neill Callis
Executive Secretary – Don Cameron
President – Dave Puglia
Past Chair – Ryan Talley
Member At-Large – Rob Yraceburu (formerly Vice Chairman)
Member At-Large – Ron Ratto (formerly Past-Past Chairman)
Affiliated State Representation
The Board also voted to require that one of the two Affiliate Directors come from the Affiliated State class of membership (e.g., a Colorado or New Mexico representative) beginning with the upcoming 2022 election.
For a copy of the amended Western Growers Bylaws please contact the Board Secretary, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Jason Resnick at [email protected].