MEC Board Election: The Media Co-op Interview
MEC Board Election: The Media Co-op Interview
With 3 million member-owners, Mountain Equipment Co-op is one of Canada's largest. It's also one of the most active co-ops. It regularly wins corporate social responsibility awards, and gives about $3 million per year to environmental organizations.
MEC has also been the subject of some controversy. Last year, the board passed a special motion to ammend the co-op's bylaws to allow the board to set criteria and reject candidates based on those criteria.
This year, they're going farther, asking the membership to give them the power to not only select who can run for the board, but to propose certain candidates as being the board's choice.
Last year, MEC Members for a Democratic Co-op (disclosure: I am a founder; I was also an MEC board candidate in 2011) published an open letter denouncing the undemocratic changes. In previous years, activists have taken on MEC's leadership for using Israeli military suppliers as a source for certain products.
This year, I asked each approved board candidate (I was not able to interview members whose candidacy was rejected by the board) about MEC's recent moves, ethical sourcing, democracy, cooperation and MEC's partnerships with ENGOs which focus on collaboration with industry.
Not all candidates responded, but some of those who did were prolific.
What follows is a table indicating the general tenor of each candidates response, followed by the questions, with brief excerpts of responses, focussing on the "bottom line" of each candidate's response. Scroll down further for the full responses, which contain sometimes quite extensive explanations.
The following overview is meant to convey a rough sense of the responses. Read the full response to determine the candidate's position:
|1. Letter||2. Sourcing||3. Cooperatives||4. Democracy||5. Environment|
|Opposed||Equivocal/need more info||Partially support||Support||Did not respond|
* * *
Full responses follow:
1. In an open letter (available here) signed by over 350 people, "MEC Members for a Democratic Co-op" said that recent modifications to the bylaws, which give the MEC board the power to approve or deny members who wish to be candidates for the board based on criteria they set was "not an appropriate power for democratically elected directors" and creates a "conflict of interest." As a board member, would you work to change this? If so, how?
I was stimulated by your question and how I'd respond to it, being one of the "old men" with a background from Corporate Canada (the American multi-national edition).You didn't mention the age of your son, but, I assume he's either a teen or 20 something. At this age, I was growing up in Burnaby, enjoying an active outdoor life as a member of the 5th Burnaby Burrard Sea Scout troop, with weekly events & activities almost every week of the year. It was a fabulous way to enjoy BC's great outdoors.That said, 40 years later, while a Queen Scout, quite experienced hiking, canoeing, camping, sailing despite being a "city boy" I was no more "Board ready" than I suspect your son would be to serve on MEC's Board today. I say this without any disrespect or knowledge of his own circumstances, based solely on my assumptions of his relative youth. There was a time, not too distant, that Boards were indeed an "old boys' network". Today, however, the professional & legal expectations on Boards are dramatically higher with individual Directors legally responsible for fulfilling their fiduciary duty (to prefer the interests of the company/corporation over their own) and duty of care (to make decisions with all their professional expertise & attention brought to bear on them) whilst fulfilling gender & diversity goals, as diverse Boards perform better than high-performance, homogenous boards (of old white men!)While a youth Board member makes sense in some organizations (e.g UBC Senate to represent students), I don't believe it makes sense for MEC. While a co-op, it is a co-op business and while many of MEC's most avid customers may have tremendous product knowledge, expertise & experience, these are not the qualifications Boards are looking for to fill ever more demanding Directorships (with specific business expertise: HR, financial, retail supply chain, governance, executive, etc. in comparable organizations to MEC). Your son's product savvy, is however, of tremendous interests to the management of MEC to keep current with their customers.In some of my past marketing roles, teens/young adults were known in Pepsi parlance as super-heavy-users (Frito Lay, Pepsi, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC; TTC). None of these "SHU" were represented on the Boards of the companies, but, I sure paid attention to them via annual tracking studies & focus groups. At TTC for example, we'd run focus groups on young/older teens split by gender, as well as young 20's as the 13-24 yo demographic represented the heaviest public transit users. So I think the best role of your son's passions & interests would be in a MEC Customer Product Advisory panel—to ensure MEC management anticipates and fulfills their customers current & future expectations. I do not know if MEC has such a panel or what their market research processes are.In the meantime, as a Father of three (two with biz, one arts degrees) I'd encourage your sons interest in serving on Boards, via volunteer positions, such as my role on CycleToronto's Board, or other social causes he's passionate about where he can learn about volunteering and giving back and the unique challenges of the not-for-profit sector. At some time he may be ready to read Carol Hansell's book: "What Directors Need to Know: Corporate Governance" to prepare himself for a future career as a corporate director, as the more engaged & involved he is, the more opportunities will present themselves to him as he builds his professional network (eg. LinkedIn) and profile with corporate Board recruiters.