And This Too Shall Pass Away

Abraham Lincoln used to tell a story about an Eastern monarch who charged his wise men to invent a phrase that would always be true and appropriate, at every time, and in every situation.  After much thought, the wise men returned and produced a banner, and upon it was emblazoned this phrase:  “And this, too, shall pass away.”

I suppose that a study of life and of the produce industry teaches us the truth of this statement.  Certainly attending conventions shows us this reality.  Each year the list of exhibitors and attendees evolves, and that company so hot, so important, so obviously the future, suddenly isn’t anything at all any more.

I remember when the oil companies were obviously going to own the whole industry – Superior, Tenneco, all the rest.  Today almost nobody is left.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that Polly Peck had bought Del Monte and was clearly on the way to being one of the true giants in produce?  Now it’s all gone, and Asil Nadir, the company’s chairman, stands as a fugitive from British law.

Let us hope, though, that the banner is not quite true.  That even though the world and business might change, the bonds between people can endure.  And so, let us use this convention not just to make money or contracts, not just to “network” or “pump” people for information.  Let us vow to make these days in Washington, D.C. a time for the renewal and establishment of friendship.

There is a longstanding dispute among historians over who is the greatest democratic leader of all time. On one side stand the fans of Churchill, the inspiring British leader, who, through little more than the force of personal will, rallied a people through their darkest hour and built the coalition to defeat Nazi tyranny.  On the other side stand supporters of Abraham Lincoln who, at the moment of America’s greatest peril, held together the American nation and thus ensured a new birth of freedom on this continent.

Both are obviously great men, but I have always come down on the side of Lincoln as the greater leader.  The exuberance with which Churchill faced life was inspiring, but, when it comes to war, perhaps more solemnity is called for.  Lincoln, on the other hand, hated every minute of war.  He felt the death of every soldier as a personal loss.

I guess I want to live my life in business as Lincoln did in war.  If you have to battle, you must, but only when necessary and hate every minute of it.  As we meet at the PMA convention, some of us will find time to visit the Lincoln Memorial.  Though we all have differing interests, let us work to keep our industry bound together as Lincoln fought to preserve the Union.  And let us remember that, though our business interests of the moment shall inevitably pass away, our friendships, like this Union, can, through our efforts, endure.

by Jim Prevor