Firing of OBI chief spotlights lack of unity among biz groups


A couple of months ago I discovered Mark Hester, the former editor of the Oregonian business pages, had left his new job as communications director for Oregon Business and Industry, the state's six-month old business association.

I tried in vain to contact him via email and LinkedIn. No response. Something was up.

I can’t say for sure if Hester left because of the problems Oregonlive revealed in its story today about the firing of Mark Johnson, OBI's first chief executive and former GOP legislator.

But I'm pretty certain.

Johnson was asked to leave following accusations of inappropriate behavior.

At some level we all saw it coming, not the head-scratching racial slurs described in the O's story — but the turmoil that defined OBI operations. 

In an exhaustively reported article published last June, OB freelancer Gordon Oliver documented the divide splintering Oregon business associations as OBI prepared to launch. The story was titled, "An Unsteady State." 

Anyone who works in the private sector knows "business" is no longer a monolithic category, even though many media outlets, and advocacy and activist groups act as if that is the case.

Business groups, like political parties, are Balkanizing. There is no single "business stance" on taxes, education, budget or environmental issues; rather, a company's policy position depends on myriad factors beyond its for-profit filing status.  Sucessful trade associations of the future will have to adapt to instead of ignore the factors that are driving new business agendas.

On that note: The mess at OBI is a cautionary tale for Andrew Hoan, who in June will take the reins at the Portland Business Alliance, now arguably the state's most powerful biz group.

PBA has done an admirable job representing its members over the years. But the leadership change at PBA comes at a time when the organization faces a big challenge in the form of upstart association Business for a Better Portland, whose members lean more progressive.

With all this in mind, I bequeathe to Hoan our art director’s rendering of Oregon's business association landscape, imagined here as cell division — and multiplication. 70989a6aeeacbdc1d036ebe6240e37ed L

Linda Baker

Linda Baker is the editor of Oregon Business

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