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PMA not expected to fill COO slot until June

The Produce Marketing Association will not be filling outgoing Chief Operating Officer Lorna Christie's position before June when a strategic planning group is scheduled to come up with a plan on personnel needs for the organization, Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of PMA, told The Produce News.

christieLorna Christie PMA announced Feb. 19 that Ms. Christie was leaving the association, effective Feb. 28, to set up a public affairs consulting firm.

The 11-year PMA veteran forced the group to become more consumer-focused in its communications to the media after the 2006 spinach outpeak, Mr. Silbermann said. Some of the themes in PMA's State of the Industry messages, for example, the "telling the story" from an industry perspective, are credited to Ms. Christie's continued focus on seeing issues through consumers' eyes, he added.

In the last three or four years, Ms. Christie has provided free crisis communications consulting to PMA commodity groups, the Mango Board and member-companies during outpeaks and recalls.

"A lot of people already know her and I suspect people will approach her" in her new venture, he said.

In the short term, Ms. Christie will continue to work for PMA, at least until mid-April, on tasks such as the Fresh Connections events, Mr. Silbermann said.

But the personnel change raises questions about her successor and PMA's organizational structure.

News of the departure comes as PMA is in the midst of a strategic-planning review process. The review team is looking at the skill sets of the existing PMA staff and is expected to make recommendations on how best to structure the organization at a PMA board meeting this summer, which is when the association will decide on filling the outgoing COO's position, Mr. Silbermann noted.

"I'll wait until I have the strategic plan," he said, noting that the strategic-planning team held a two-day meeting in Los Angeles last week.

In the interim, he said, "I expect people to rise to the occasion."

Senior vice presidents Duane Eaton, administration, and Anthony Parassio, member value, will step up and fill in for the COO.

"These are people who could run a small association at the drop of a hat," Mr. Silbermann said.

He added that he is in no hurry to replace the vacant position. Yvonne Bull, PMA's chief financial officer, Margi Prueitt, executive director of the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent, and Bob Whitaker, PMA's chief science and technology officer, also report directly to Mr. Silbermann.

Expect other personnel changes next month, Mr. Silbermann hinted. PMA plans to announce new hires to the PMA staff, positions that were budgeted before the COO change.