A Year Past Reorganization

NCGA co-ops make good on value opportunity

Glancing back at articles in Cooperative Grocer magazine a year ago, I’m struck by how much has changed in just one year since the official reorganization of the former CGA system into the National Cooperative Grocers Association. While reports of activities are always interesting, what I find most compelling about the comparison and contrast is the value opportunity, which was the genesis of the proposal to reorganize.

For example: Of the 20 staff employed by the former system, NCGA currently employs 14 of those talented folks. In addition, we’ve added eight new staff positions, filling five of those newly created positions in 2005. While the retention and capacity development implied in these numbers is noteworthy, I’d like to emphasize the service opportunities and future value this integration of staff makes possible.

Staff is accountable to common organizational objectives, making cross-pollination of ideas, workload, and troubleshooting much simpler. Time and money come from the same pot, we no longer serve 11 organizational bottom lines, and we do it all with fewer people. While communication is and will always be a challenge of significant concern in any national organization, the remedies are easier to strategize, and the cycle time for championing change is greatly reduced. Some might argue that this was all possible under the old system, and they might be right; but our experience wasn’t showing that to be the case. Our ability to effectively compete in a rapidly changing environment begged for an acceleration of our performance and organizational agility across programs and services.

Another compelling metric to examine is our finances. The NCGA balance sheet in 2003 showed approximately $51,000 in total assets but in 2004 reported $1,896,097—the lion’s share of which was cash and accounts receivable. Net income in 2003 was ($23,000) against total income of $593,000, while in 2004 it was ($144,916) against total income of $2,791,288. This was about 20 percent of the planned loss in the reorganization proposal, and the NCGA did not need to incur debt as originally anticipated during the reorganization startup.

These dramatic changes have been a lot to manage, and the downside to better financial performance has been delayed staffing and service capacity. But the real story is that NCGA member food co-ops now have a national association that is adequately funded and well-positioned financially to deliver the big, hairy, and audacious goals that cooperators have been talking about for years. Sure, there are revenue streams and equity-within-member-equity questions to be answered—but these are not unique to startup operations. And industry reports as well as budget performance already show that our aggregation is having a positive effect on our ability to capture a greater share of available industry funds.

Lastly, I’ll point to governance and the mechanisms for member involvement, representation, and leadership for the association. We held our first General Assembly of members and Marketplace of Ideas early in 2005, and this fall, we will engage members in a second opportunity to come together as a national group, as we segue to a fall schedule of future General Assemblies. In the previous system, NCGA elections were rote affairs wherein the slate self-ratified the individuals put forth by the CGAs. There were eight elected directors and one advisory seat, compared to the current 10 elected directors and two advisory seats. Along with the addition of a seat to represent the chapter (Great Lakes) comprised mostly of the smaller stores in our membership and an at-large seat accessible to all, each member of NCGA cast its own ballot directly in this year’s election. We’ve been able to attract advisors with strong skills in purchasing cooperatives and in organizational development in national business environments.

No, it hasn’t been easy. Yes, it’s been a lot of hard work. Yes, it’s been fascinating, and no, I am not the most objective voice in the crowd. This is my fifth year with NCGA, and I am gratified to see the progress toward a system that has a chance to really deliver on those ambitious goals. But mostly I am gratified to see the commitment of the membership, staff, and friends of NCGA to making this endeavor succeed long into the future.

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Robynn Shrader is CEO of the National Cooperative Grocers Association ([email protected]).

See other articles from this issue: #120 September - October - 2005