by Ron Fong/president and CEO, California Grocers Association
Global leaders have their World Economic Forum. Economists have their Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Symposium. Independent filmmakers have their Sundance.
The California Grocers Association (CGA) now has its Leadership Summit.
For the first time, CGA brought together a small group of executives from California’s diverse retail grocery industry for two days of collaborative and honest discussions about the issues that impact Californians every day. This type of engagement is something that had long been a part of CGA’s strategic plan to take deeper dives into big-picture issues in a smaller setting that would be more conducive to dialogue among executives.
Our industry’s vast consumer reach and contributions to California’s economy places grocers in a unique position that impact the quality of life in what is the world’s fifth-largest economy. Additionally, as one of the state’s largest employers, operating in a complex and highly regulated industry, it is critical for business leaders and elected officials to foster open dialogues and detailed understandings of key issues.
To that end, CGA put together a program that brought together economists, journalists, political operatives, and elected officials to take a look forward and discuss what they thought lies ahead for our state. And rather than sit in a big audience, simply listening to presentations, grocery executives were part of the presentations, guiding presenters with their questions about things such as the future of labor and housing markets, the political outlook for the next decade and the evolving nature of retailers in the growing internet-driven economy.
Most notable was the dialogue our executives had with our state’s gubernatorial candidates—Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox. Our Leadership Summit provided an opportunity to ask them about industry-specific questions such as how they would help address the increasing theft problem grocers have been facing and what they would do to help businesses to thrive in an increasingly regulated state.
Another highlight was the appearance of California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra. Unbeknownst to many, the office of the Attorney General can have a big impact on businesses operating in this state. From Prop. 65 to public safety policy to privacy regulations, the decisions made by him and his staff can really affect our industry. Becerra engaged our executives in a wide-ranging discussion that centered on the shoplifting epidemic our industry has faced in recent years. The result of this discussion was an offer by him to convene a meeting with our top executives and law enforcement representatives from California’s largest jurisdictions to discuss how to address this pressing issue.
Member engagement is the primary mission of any association, but CGA is always on the lookout for ways to take member engagement to the next level. It is my hope that this Leadership Summit is the start of a CGA tradition that gives the tools to our top industry executives that allow them to thrive in the ever-changing economic and political landscape. I would encourage my colleagues in other associations to consider putting together similar events in their states. Our industry will certainly be better for it.
Fong became president and CEO of CGA in March 2008. A native Californian and a lawyer, he joined CGA after 12 years with the California Credit Union League (CCUL). At CGA, Fong serves as the association’s chief legislative and political advocate and oversees government relations, member services, convention and communication programs. He also is president of the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation (CGAEF). His grandfather started Carmichael Supermarket, the first grocery market in Carmichael, California, in 1941, and Fong worked in the grocery business as he grew up.