Joel Munn, RM President Interview with Dave Schuiling, Director of Education
I had the opportunity to sit down with President Joel Munn to discuss current affairs in the Rocky Mountain division. As a member of the administration team I am privy to the discussions surrounding our negotiations with ASEA (aka National) and we both agreed it was important to update the membership on this topic.
Dave: As President, how do you see the current state of the Rocky Mountain Division?
Joel: Rocky Mountain (RM) is financially healthy, continues to be an innovative leader, and is evolving culturally. We continue to grow based on a history we should all be very proud of. I am humbled when I think how far we’ve come as an organization and leader in snow sports education. RM is 62 years old and we have always made significant contributions to the reputation of PSIA-AASI as an Education and Verification (Certification) organization. Our Board respects and recognizes this heritage. They have made a huge commitment to our administrative group and volunteer leadership with several key initiatives in the last few years. When the endowment fund goal of $500,000 was attained, they subsequently expanded our scholarship programs significantly. Additionally, after almost 60 years of renting, they invested in our membership and division by purchasing a home office in Steamboat Springs. In an effort to support our staff and continue to strive for consistency of our products, the RM Board of Directors supported an employment status change for our Ed. Staff from independent contractors to employees. This change has allowed us to invest in and support our human resources. We believe one result of this change has been a visible improvement in the ‘guest friendly” environment within our programs. Evolving and maintaining this culture within the people who deliver our products is critical to RM’s success, now and in the future. I’m happy to say that all of the assets and resources we have are stable and healthy.
Dave: There’s been lots of talk about our national organizational structure over the last year and a half. Please give our membership an update on the progress of these discussions.
Joel: The reality of our current situation is that we do not by definition have a “national” entity. Although hard to fathom, other than a logo use agreement, there are no formal written contracts which define our working relationships as independent yet cooperative business entities. There are 9 different regional PSIA associations (divisions) as well as the American Snowsports Education Association (ASEA); the office in Lakewood, CO. Because federal law states Board members cannot have a fiduciary responsibility to separate non-profit corporations, the assumed governance between all these groups has changed significantly. “National Reps” historically appointed by divisional boards to serve on the ASEA Board now have sole fiduciary responsibility to the ASEA. This may at times be in conflict with financial, administrative, and operational issues which at times even affect the goals and vision of individual divisions. The”National Rep” position which existed for years is no longer valid. That person represents ASEA members from a particular geographic area but does not represent the business entity of that region. As an example: Divisional and ASEA dues are individually established, yet collectively collected. Subsequently, these revenues are credited to the respective division and to the ASEA. The $11 increase to the ASEA dues approved unanimously by the ASEA Board of Directors in June of 2011 caught many of us by surprise. This action made it very clear the ASEA Board must vote to protect its own financial stability. Ironically, and perhaps fortunately, the impact of this dues increase made it very clear to leadership that we have a fundamental lack of structure among the 10 PSIA-AASI entities.
Dave: Many members inquire “where do my membership dues go?” or “why do I have to join both RockyMountain and the ASEA ?”, “is it required?” “What are the benefits of joining both organizations?” As a board member how would you best answer these questions?
Joel: These questions have been asked for decades. Most members can clearly define what their individual divisions do for them in terms of education and certification. It is very apparent the divisions provide relevant events, curriculum and promoting of their credentials with the member schools. Members call the divisional offices on issues regarding their professional credentials and constantly inquire about the professional development necessary to further their careers. The divisions provide the products and set the standards for teaching, technical knowledge and on mountain performance. The divisions award the pins proudly worn by instructors across the country. The ASEA is a “service center” for pros nationwide. They market the profession, represent it both nationally and internationally, provide an infrastructure for tracking educational credits and certification credentials, deal with nationwide sponsorship programs, compile and publish educational materials, and we would hope, “house” the National Standards as well as the (Properties)…the logos, marks and intellectual properties. As for membership in both organizations, this became mandatory in 1970, eight years after what was then known as PSIA. There are no documents I’ve seen to explain this. I can only assume it was done to provide them with sufficient funds to perform their role as a service organization which was their intended role. Additionally, the ASEA Board adopted, perhaps questionably, a by-law change a number of years ago which required members of a division to be members of the ASEA. These two latter points are issues which are presently part of our negotiations with the ASEA. It essentially comes down to ownership of the Properties. Who should have ownership, authority and is responsible for maintaining the consistency and quality of these Properties. Should it be solely the ASEA or all 10 collectively?
Dave: Certification Exams are tested in reference to a National Standard. What does it mean to have a National Standard and how do the divisions maintain consistency with the National Standards?
Joel: A National Standard is beneficial to both members and member schools in many ways. As discussed above, the National Standards are born and evolved at the divisional level. The simple fact is that the divisions set standards, educate to them, and validate this education on a consistent and ongoing basis. At the same time, the National Standards must be voted on and subsequently approved by the ASEA Board each June. Since the divisions are directly responsible for the creation, validation and ongoing maintenance of the standards, the validity of this process is questionable. This relates once again, and calls into question, the fact that there is no current governance to allow “one to one,” nor, as we suggest, “proportional” divisional representation to the voting entity which ratifies the standards.
Dave: Members have received multiple communications describing current negotiations between ASEA. What is at the root of these negotiations?
Joel: As I’ve mentioned, we are 10 parts with no legally defined whole. Each of our 10 companies has different cultures, membership numbers, needs, and resort demands. All 10 conduct their affairs using trademarks, logos, and intellectual properties (Properties) which were developed primarily through the divisions, for collective use nationally. Under the understanding of the old governance structure, the ASEA has copyrighted these Properties and calls them the ASEA Properties. Unfortunately during our present negotiations the ASEA has used their ownership of the Properties in an attempt to leverage us into signing an agreement we do not agree with. The agreement they propose is, in essence, a franchise structure. It would give the ASEA ultimate control of many decisions. As an independent business we have assets which must be protected. Additionally, we have clear responsibilities to our specific members. We cannot have one company leveraging another in this manner and we cannot pass the responsibility of protecting RM over to another entity. It is because of these issues we in RM believe we must share a common ownership of the Properties. The concept we have proposed, in our opinion, allows for a partnership with the ASEA as well as the other regions, and ultimately enables us to collectively form a national entity with legal and binding governance.
Dave: If an affiliation agreement is on the table, why would RM or any other division oppose signing it?
Joel: Well, as I mentioned above, the agreement proposed is a franchise type structure. Because the ASEA at present owns the Properties, they claim ultimate decision making authority relative to those Properties. If we were to agree to the ASEA draft, RM would be under the control of the ASEA. They claim they have no desire to control yet we cannot sign anything which would allow use of the leverage of ownership of the Properties now or in the future. It is important to know we are not alone in this position. There are at least 3 other divisions who have stated unequivocally that they have no intention of being a franchise. Over the past few months, the ASEA and their attorney have stated clearly that the divisions in their opinion are affiliates of the ASEA. This is both legally and historically inaccurate and we adamantly disagree. Since 1962 to the present day RM has always wanted an affiliation with the ASEA and other regional companies. We never have been and at continue to have absolutely no interest in being an affiliate of the ASEA.
Dave: As the president of Rocky Mountain what is your number one priority? What does the membership gain from the potential fierce negotiations that lie ahead?
Joel: I would emphasize first of all that what we are trying to accomplish is a real national entity which would bring strength and quality to the recognition our profession. It would also create the stability our organizations have desired since our beginnings. Relative to RM, our Board and I are dedicated to maintaining the autonomy our business needs in order to sustain growth and maintain the evolution of Rocky Mountain financially and culturally. The membership gains from a strong national and divisional structure which allows this to happen. I would hope we can get this done very soon.
As we move forward, if I remain as President of RM, I hope our Board will initiate a relationship with a nationally recognized charity. As a non-profit company and as professionals who are devoted to helping people, I’d like to see RM members and member schools dedicate themselves to raising $1 million to this charity. Personally, I think the road this would take us on as individuals and professionals would help all of us realize we are part of a greater whole, that we have a responsibility to our guests and communities, and would move our culture of caring for others to a new level. In the end, we would earn the greater respect we want for our organization and be able to take greater pride in our profession and ultimately exemplify what we believe in as snowsports professionals.