Hindsight is always 20/20, but it can be instructive as well. The turmoil that began with the merger between the old National Cattlemen’s Association and the National Livestock and Meat Board certainly resulted in a mixed bag of results.
It was a great business decision, but a poor one from a political standpoint. Without question, the checkoff grew in effectiveness even as dollars declined. Yet the checkoff side of NCBA, while still enjoying significant support from producers, has also found itself in the political sights of the opponents of NCBA’s policy side. It is a testament to what was created that NCBA has become the dominant contractor to the checkoff. Ironically, that dominance has also created resentment among some.
The policy side of NCBA has not fared as well through the merger. The inter-industry fights over the past years have wasted valuable political capital, and NCBA’s attempts at reconciliation with its opponents hampered its ability to aggressively carry forward the policies of the industry. R-CALF is no longer considered a legitimate player on the political front, but while NCBA may have won the battle, their brand was certainly damaged in the fights that were waged.
NCBA’s policy side now has the opportunity to return to its roots; its (grass)roots that is. While there is little doubt that the feeding and stocker segments will continue to be powerful voices in NCBA, the cow-calf producer always has and always will be the heart and soul of the organization, not only from a numbers standpoint, but also from a policy perspective.
NCBA’s leadership should be commended for not doing the simple but rather taking their time in selecting their new CEO. It is generally understood that the focus of our new leader has to be on the cow-calf side, on improving communication within the industry and with outside audiences, adjusting to the new and ever-evolving political reality of today, strengthening our financial footing and reinvigorating the brand internally.
NCBA, like Congress, is merely an institution, the organization designed to give the industry a voice politically and in shaping the economic environment in which producers operate. Like Congress though, its effectiveness and the support it enjoys is anything but constant.
It can be argued that NCBA’s success is ultimately determined by its volunteer leadership. Volunteer leaders are paramount to success. The state cattlemen groups, and all those affiliated with the NCBA structure, do a great job of putting forth strong leadership from the membership, but there must also be the recognition that the volunteer leadership by its very nature is temporal and fluid.
Staff and staff leadership is the constant that keeps the organization moving forward and has a significant impact on its success of carrying the industry’s policy and views forward in a positive way. Thus, the leadership has an excessive burden placed upon it as they search for a new CEO.
That is why NCBA has taken its time and exercised diligence in the selection of the next CEO. No individual has the capabilities to fulfill all the roles effectively, yet this individual must be able to be the voice of the industry and be able to generate enthusiasm among the membership.
Hiring leadership is always one of the most critical components of an organizations success, but this hire more than previous ones is particularly critical because NCBA is facing significant challenges. This is a great opportunity and a critical decision for the industry, for NCBA, and most importantly for the industry. The expectations are high and the stakes higher.
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.
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