When Cal Dooley takes over the reins of the American Chemistry Council this fall, he will become the first former Member of Congress to lead the $118 million-a-year organization.
Dooley, a Democrat and one-time farmer who represented an agricultural central California valley district from 1991 to 2005, has spent the years since Congress leading a food industry group first the Food Products Association and then the Grocery Manufacturers Association after those two groups merged
last year and took the GMA name.
Dooleys move from the GMA has launched fresh speculation about the food groups future and potential merger discussions between GMA and the Food Marketing Institute, which is also searching for a new leader.
It has also brought new focus to Dooley, 54, whom former colleagues and staff members describe as a pragmatic consensus-builder.
By all accounts, Dooleys biggest achievement at GMA was not a big legislative effort but instead overseeing the merger with the former FPA.
His legacy at GMA is he really gets high marks for executing the merger between GMA and the Food Products Association, said Galen Reser, a top in-house lobbyist with PepsiCo, one of GMAs largest members. It has gone as smoothly as one could hope, and Cal gets enormous credit for doing that.
Dooley himself called the merger his most significant achievement.
Dooley would say little about his plans for ACC, a group that traces its roots back to 1872 and includes such members as DuPont and 3M.
It would be presumptuous for me at this point to say that I have a well-developed strategic plan that Im prepared to implement at ACC, he said during an interview late last week. When I took the reins of the Food Products Association, and then working through the merger with GMA, the most important thing you can do is spend a lot of time listening and asking questions. For the first few months, I recognize Im on the low end of the learning curve and the best way to travel up is to work with those people and staff that have a great deal of expertise.
Dooley expects that trade and energy issues will be priorities at ACC. While he was at GMA, the food group launched an aggressive campaign against ethanol interests for creating high food costs. Dooley said that at ACC he wont be on a different side of that issue, but noted that ethanol will not take the same priority.
Lori Denham, who worked for Dooley during most of his Congressional tenure, said her former boss will bring pragmatism and vision to ACC.
He is very strategic and thoughtful, said Denham, now the executive vice president of government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Hes somebody that brought a very strong business background when he came to Congress, and he never lost that. He has an ability to really digest complex problems and issues and map out a short-term, mid-term and long-term strategy.
Another one-time aide, Adam Kovacevich, who is now a spokesman for Google in Washington, D.C., said Dooleys leadership style is bringing people together and bringing about consensus. He is one of those guys who, when Democrats were in the minority, he knew that working with the other side was key to getting things done. And he was never the kind of Member who was focused on scoring partisan points.
Still, a chemical industry lobbyist said Dooley will have big shoes to fill in replacing ACCs outgoing chief, Jack Gerard, who is taking over the American Petroleum Institute.
Jack really steadied the ship, said the lobbyist, noting that Gerard made sweeping staff changes and launched an ambitious advocacy and advertising campaign. If he can make inroads with many Democrats that have not really been supportive of our issues, to the degree that he can help us with that and achieve legislative successes, then he will be a success.
Dooley, for his part, downplays his partisan affiliation and that of other newly hired association leaders, most of whom, like Gerard, have been from the GOP.
What youre finding with almost every association that is selecting a new leader is that theyre looking for a candidate that has credibility with Republicans and Democrats, and theyre looking for those individuals that are not perceived as being overly partisan and have the credibility and integrity with both sides of the aisle, Dooley said. I think what is even more important than your partisan affiliation is your intellectual and personal integrity.
The ACC acted swiftly to fill Gerards job. Several reports indicated that the search firm Korn/Ferry International conducted both the API and ACC hunts. Dooley said he was not up for the API job, but, in this world, associations, people are always talking.
Dooley said he was lured away from a post he enjoyed. The ACC job is a bigger one with a larger staff and an annual budget nearly four times that of GMAs $30 million.
This is the first time in my professional career Ive ever left a job that I enjoyed and still found to be intellectually challenging, Dooley said. But Im also to the point in my career where [I have] the opportunity to run a larger organization and they have an interesting set of policy issues, which Im intrigued by.
As for a potential merger between the GMA and the Food Marketing Institute, whose chief, Tim Hammonds, is retiring, several sources said there is buzz about the possibility, but no official talks. One lobbyist familiar with both groups said it would be difficult because the two groups members typically do not overlap. FMI represents the wholesalers and grocery chains while GMA represents popular brands sold in grocery stores.
Another source familiar with both groups, however, said, It would not surprise me if those conversations go back on the table.