Scoop Interview with Joel Munn

Joel Munn recently finished a thirteen-year stint as a member of the PSIA-AASI Board of Directors and nine years as President and Chairman of the Board as well as Representing RM on the PSIA-AASI National Board of Directors.  We have done a number of interviews with Joel over that time.  He has always given us clarity as to the direction of the organization as well as why and how decisions are made by the Board of Directors and our leadership in general.   With his retirement, The Scoop thought it would be appropriate to take advantage of Joel’s institutional knowledge by doing one more interview…and to thank him for his long and dedicated service to all of us.

Scoop:  First Joel, we want to say thank you for your leadership and service to RM.

Joel:   I can assure you it has been a pleasure and a labor of love.  Since my first lesson in 1966 at Whiteface Mt. in Lake Placid N.Y., being a ski instructor has been the primary motivation in my life…I will never regret it.  The life I’ve lived, the people I’ve met along the way, and the joy and fulfillment I have reaped from our vocation have helped me become the person I wanted to be.  What more could a person ask from their professional life?

I’ve been lucky enough to have lived my career in three countries and four divisions within the United States.  My involvement with PSIA-AASI, especially within Rocky Mountain, has been one of many high points.  It has not always been easy, and we have been presented with many  challenges along the way.  At the same time, it has always been rewarding and educational on many levels.  I owe a lot to my involvement with PSIA-AASI and will always be grateful to the organization, and to the many people who have made it what it is and continues to be.

Scoop:   Now that you have stepped down from leadership within PSIA-AASI, how would you describe the state of our organization at present?

Joel:   That is a more complex question than you may think.  From a membership perspective, I can only respond from an RM viewpoint.  And from there, I would say there has never been a better time to reap the educational benefits our organization has to offer.  That said, we always need to look at the health of the organization as a whole, as well as the stability and well-being of the individual divisions that contribute to making us an overall national entity.  While it is sometimes a sensitive subject, we all need to realize that PSIA-AASI, is actually a group of nine separate and independent companies.  Each of the eight divisions has an agreement of affiliation with PSIA-AASI or “National.”  The agreement addresses use of the Logos and Marks and spells out the responsibilities and limitations between the parties.

Contrary to common belief, there are no formal agreements between the divisions themselves. Therefore, communication, cooperation, and collaboration between all parties is essential to our overall success.   Whether this is the ideal structure for an overall national entity is certainly a subject for healthy debate.  Yet after many years of discussion and query, this structure seems to be what we will be using for the foreseeable future.  We have to work collectively for success nation-wide.  I see a steady move towards better inter-divisional relationships.  With this mentality of teamwork, in conjunction with a welcome openness from the National organization, our overall organization is moving forward and gaining positive momentum.

In the end, it is really up to our leaders as to how our organization evolves and how successful we will be as the industry changes.  I can only say that as we continue to find common purposes, consistent mission statements and goals, and subsequently work together, the entire entity nationwide becomes more stable and respected.  As this happens, our common membership across the country benefits from higher quality services, and our stakeholders within the industry view us as relevant and useful.

Scoop:   And from a divisional perspective, how do you see things?

Joel:  From a divisional perspective, I think most people know that Rocky Mountain has a long history of pride in the educational and certification services we offer to our members and member schools.  This has been an ongoing effort over six decades.  Over this past decade, we have worked diligently to create financial stability, build our asset base, focus on our administrative infrastructure, and invest in our human resources.  We have done so in order to continually improve; to be the best we can be.

From a personal perspective, I have been fortunate to have known, and been involved with, seven generations of leadership within RM; the people started our division, the people who moved it forward, and our present leaders who, in my opinion are unmatched across the industry.  From experience, I can clearly see an awareness within each generation of responsibility to their predecessors.   A long history of talented, caring, and introspective leaders within RM have created a time tested, and incredibly strong culture; a culture of continually striving for excellence on every level.

That said, we need to realize we are blessed by an influx of talent that migrates to RM from every division within our organization.  We are also very fortunate to have the financial means, capital resources, and alpine environment that allow us to improve at the pace, and to the extent we are willing to commit to.

Our challenge within RM has long been, and most likely will continue to be, finding a balance between evolving at the pace we aspire to, and working collaboratively with our partners so that everyone across the nation, members, schools, and our guests get the best possible education and experiences on their mountains as possible.  In the end, we have a responsibility as individual divisions, and as an organization collectively, to continually pursue this goal.  All we can reasonably ask is that everyone give it their best.

Scoop:  That’s a pretty big statement.  Would you care to elaborate in any way?

Joel:  It is a big statement.  One of the benefits of each division being a more or less independent entity is that it allows for agility and diversity in how they choose to, and quite often, must operate in order to best serve their members.   Geographic differences, client demographics, resort size, alpine variations, and many other things require our divisional organizations to be flexible in their educational programs and business models.

Believe me, RM leadership has a ton of respect for this reality.  As I see it, our educators and our administrators are doing everything possible to share with other divisions if and when they want our help.  We also borrow best practices and process from each other and seek improvement through teamwork.  I firmly believe this is done with respect and thus we are moving to an area where this sharing is non-threatening and beneficial to everyone.  You can be assured that RM leadership is committed to contributing to a healthy and respected holistic organization.

Scoop:  Is it fair then to say you are optimistic about the “state of the union” going forward?

Joel:  Certainly.  We are in a great place right now.  We have a great leader nationally in Nick Herrin.  He has incredible energy and dedication. He is a man with vision and patience, and he exhibits all the leadership skills necessary to bring us even closer nationally.  Dana Forbes, our CEO, is recognized and trusted by the entire group of Administrative Leaders across the country.  RM’s Educational Leaders carry a strong and respected voice at the highest level among the Educational Leadership across the country.  This group has come together in a way I’ve ever seen in a nationwide effort and are making progress we should all be proud of.  They are working from a big picture perspective and then taking it to the grass roots so a majority of members can benefit.  I could not have more respect and admiration for not only our present educators, but also our up and coming educators nationally and divisionally.  We have a wide range of talent willing and able to grab the torch and move us into the future.

In the volunteer leadership realm, I see the Board of PSIA-AASI moving towards a more consolidated relationship with Presidents across the country; even to the extent of considering different business models.  Divisional Boards are seeking consistency in their governmental practices, both internally and inter-divisionally.  I continue to feel optimistic that national and divisional leaders are understanding the value of closer relationships with our member schools, their resorts, the NSAA, and the many other stakeholders that directly and indirectly affect, and are affected by our pros.

Things are pretty darn good right now.  Yet I would add a word of caution.  The industry we all rely on is changing rapidly.  We need to constantly be introspective, and open to change.  We cannot be dogmatic and we must be open and flexible in our processes, practices, and procedures going forward.  I have my concerns about how the present industry movement towards large conglomerates is going to impact our pros as individuals, PSIA-AASI as an organization, and RM as a business entity.  In my opinion, its all up in the air right now.

Within RM, we are well beyond striving to be “relevant” to the industry.  We are now making significant progress towards becoming “necessary.”   From our perspective, if we are not necessary to the resorts, they may seek other ways to educate and credential their employees.  If we are not necessary, we could very soon become redundant; or perhaps, which I find dangerous, need to find a different purpose.   My senses tell me change is on the horizon.  As I step away, I challenge our leaders to be sure our education is at the highest level, that it is consistent with what will bring success to resort guests, and thus the resorts.   And always please be sure that we educate and verify our education by modeling the behavior we expect our pros to show their guests.

Scoop:  As always Joel, you give us things to think about.  One more question if you don’t mind.  Now that you are, as you often say, “riding into the sunset,” what is next for you personally?

Joel:  Thanks, and I appreciate you asking.   Of course, I will continue to ski.  But I have found another passion as well.  I started spending more and more time in Ecuador the past few years.  It is a beautiful country with people who are even more beautiful.  I am struck by the poverty that surrounds me and simultaneously awed by the gentleness and visual goodness of the people.  Like most Central and South American countries, there is no “safety net” where the less fortunate can find assistance.  The number of disabled people, children and adults, who I see in the streets, and the number of very old people seeking a hand out simply for survival overcomes me emotionally.

When I decided to spend more time in their country, I knew I had to do something to help some of these people if I could.  I have been developing a project that has found a place in my heart working with the few charitable organizations that do exist in Cuenca, Ecuador.  Without government assistance, charitable organizations find it very difficult.  They need a lot of help, but in reality, what they need most is money.

I have established a 501 c-3 called Snow Angels in Ecuador.  We are a non-profit organization based here in the United States.  We hope to provide and manage and administer funds directly to a central hub and subsequently to the charitable organizations within Ecuador.  With revenue that is more available here in the U.S., we are working in conjunction with Global Giving and directly with the Hearts of Gold Foundation.  They are the most established, yet within our standards, still a very small charitable foundation in Cuenca.

Our plan is to establish an administrative and educational infrastructure, similar in some ways to RM, that will take advantage of economies of scale, and thus service and bring sustainability to the small and struggling charitable organizations in the region.  These organizations include a school for impoverished indigenous children, an orphanage for severely disabled and impoverished children, a “soup kitchen” that provides meals to poor street people and Venezuelan refugee families, and a project for women and children who are victims of violence.  More will come under our wing as things progress.

I will be working this winter to raise funds.   Any help we can get from interested pros and/or their guest who may find this a worthwhile effort will be greatly appreciated.  We will invest our donations wisely with the development and future independence of the organizations we are working with as a primary concern.  I’ll leave it at that for now, with the hope that I have some curiosity within our pros.  Perhaps they will create awareness of the project with their guests as well.  If so, find us at snowangelsinecuador.org.

With that said, please know I will always be a ski instructor at heart and as always, I encourage every snowsports pro to live their professional lives from their hearts…from there you cannot go wrong.  My best to everyone!

Scoop:  Our thanks to you as well Joel…and God Speed!

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