Get in the game and speak up for the industry - The Packer

Get in the game and speak up for the industry

08/03/2012 09:43:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationTom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationA few weeks back, our marketing staff at United Fresh came up with a promotion for this year’s Washington Public Policy Conference, with a tongue-in-cheek look at 10 Ways WPPC Is Way Better Than the Olympics.

We got a few laughs, and hopefully didn’t offend our London colleagues too badly.

If you’ll indulge me to push the metaphor to the breaking point, I’m seeing some important lessons for our industry’s public policy efforts in the athletes’ performances thus far.

First — you’ve got to have a vision to get up in the morning.

Could anyone miss that the great swimmer Michael Phelps came into his third Olympics with an opportunity to earn the most medals of all time?

Think about that young man’s journey over the past 12 years, leading to this moment. How many miles did he swim in quest of achieving that vision?

Thinking about our vision, how long have we been committed to doubling fresh produce consumption by the next generation of children? Will we do what it takes to achieve that goal?

Next — be passionate about execution.

I was admiring the U.S. women’s volleyball team playing with such energy and controlled emotion, but was even more blown away by coaching substitutions that always seemed to put the right player in the right place at the right time.

Everyone knew just what role she played, and executed to perfection. Our industry is made up of many players, but we all have specific roles to play to execute successfully.

Did anyone catch the archery team competition? Talk about the need to keep a steady hand! The Italian archer Mauro Nespoli had one arrow left, and needed a perfect 10 to win the gold. A 9 would have meant a shoot-off, and an eight second place.

When everything is riding on that one shot, be steady. (He hit the bull’s-eye to win gold.)

Next is an easy analogy — you’ve got to love those rapids.

Whether you’re in a kayak in the Olympics or working the halls of Congress trying to pass a farm bill, we’ve all got to traverse some rough waters.

And, of course, sometimes you fall off the horse (or the pommel horse). But it’s not the end of the world, and you can get back on and try again.

While the U.S. men’s gymnastics team fell short this time, consider how many times the men from Great Britain fell in other meets before notching their historic team bronze medal before their home crowd?

We haven’t won every issue yet — polarized views on immigration reform continue to block solutions — but we’ll keep getting back on the horse.

Let me end my sports-as-life philosophy back where I started with Michael Phelps.

By any account, Phelps hasn’t had his best Olympics. He’s not the über-swimmer from another planet that he was in Beijing. He even lost his signature butterfly event by a touch.

But his vision of earning the most medals of all time came true, earning gold with the men’s 4x200 freestyle relay.

The event that put him over the top was no longer a singular achievement. It was a collective accomplishment with his friends, colleagues and often competitors.

That makes me think about our industry group coming to Washington, D.C., this fall to make their voices heard.

These are the leaders who come together not for individual success but to join with colleagues and competitors to help grow our industry in ways that no one can alone.

And that’s why an event like the WPPC is so important. Members of Congress see competitors coming together to push for policies that serve the whole industry, not just their narrow interest.

Regulators at the Food and Drug Administration or U.S. Department of Agriculture see companies from farm to retail across the supply chain teaming up to work together enhancing food safety and industry standards.

So this year, I hope you’ll all join the group of leaders from across the industry who are coming to D.C. to lobby for a strong farm bill, for nutrition programs that help grow produce consumption for kids, and for immigration reform and labor policies that will help us harvest and pack our crops.

I hope you’ll get in the game.

Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

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