“Make it a good one”

Feb 5, 2010

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Federation of State Beef Councils (Federation) voted to make the transition to what was promoted as a more nimble, responsive organization by limiting the size of their board of directors. A governance task force established by former NCBA President Andy Groseta completed 18 months of industry soul-searching, and arguing, to modify the way the two organizations conduct business.

The plan is to reduce their board of directors from 275 people to 29 to allow for quicker, more responsive decisions without a lot of background noise. This new board of directors will, for the first time, hold legal and fiduciary responsibility for their decisions, which should allow the organization to respond to issues better with the limited amount of funding available to them.

The governance plan was expected to find opposition, but the task force had done their homework and had most of the conceptual bugs worked out of the plan. Producers had the opportunity to speak their mind and their concerns were addressed. At the end of the day, the measure passed with little fanfare and was approved by a 201 to13 vote margin, which was a big surprise.

The governance task force was comprised of folks involved in every aspect of the cattle and beef industries. One member said this process was all about returning some accountability to the organization, should allow for greater focus on the issues and will allow everyone to participate.

Other folks think it’s just about the money, which is true to a certain extent, because they plan on raising the price of seats on the board of delegates from $17,500 to $25,000. Several years ago, it looked like the Federation and NCBA would be more likely to separate. The folks on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), which oversees the Beef Checkoff Program, were clearly the most outspoken group over the governance changes. I could see where CBB and their single largest checkoff contractor, NCBA, could have some disagreements on how things should be done.

But when you consider the 100-plus members of the CBB, the Federation and NCBA with their 275-member board, it’s easy to see that there are simply too many people involved. No one was able to make decisions quickly, or respond to issues in a timely manner.

Keeping the entire beef industry’s checkoff contribution from leaking into any policy operations has always been a big issue. Some folks were suggesting that the firewall between the two organizations needed to be enhanced, which is hard to understand since the CBB staff is devoted to compliance issues.

What could be considered the old "board of directors" still remains, and will be referred to as the board of delegates, which will have the responsibility of screening motions brought up from the committee structure. It will be responsible for placing those issues before the 29-member board of directors. The board of delegates will provide an equal voting base between state cattlemen’s groups and the state beef council members, with a small portion of the votes—roughly 15 percent—going to the allied industries.

From what I understand, technically, anyone can bring an issue through the committee process to the house of delegates, even non-members of the association. NCBA refers to non-members as invited guests. Hopefully, this will create a more open organization that everyone can have a voice in and lead to increased membership. When 80 percent of NCBA’s operating budget comes from the Beef Checkoff Program, it’s got to be open to non-members.

Now the real work will start with the creation of bylaws and establishing their first board of directors. All but three members of the board are elected by the house of delegates. The selection of the first board should be interesting.

I was never a big fan when the National Cattlemen’s Association and the beef industry councils merged in the first place, but I have always believed that when a decision is made, you should help make it a good one, and this is one of those situations. — PETE CROW