New General Manager Establishes Strong Board Relationship

Mountain View Market Co+op
Las Cruces, NM

Year founded:  1975
Membership investment:  $200
Number of members:  3,700
Number of employees:  24
Retail square feet:  6,100

As most managers discover when they take on the role of general manager, the top job is all about forging positive relationships with many stakeholders:  staff, owners, the community, and the board of directors.  The GM works very closely with the board carrying out the vision for the co-op.  Establishing a good relationship from the outset is critical for mutual respect and working together.

Nagisa Suzuki is Mountain View Market Co+op’s newly minted general manager.  She’d started her career at the co-op in 2014 after she had moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Suzuki had worked her way up, was interim in early 2017 and became the general manager in April.  She has lots of experience in operations having worked for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s before her move to Las Cruces.

Suzuki knew about retail and how competitive it has become.  Now she is challenged to apply all that knowledge and more to the role of a general manager working with a board.  She noted that cooperative business practices and processes differ from how business is carried out in corporate chains or even independently owned businesses.  “There’s a lot of difference between having a regional office make all the decisions above you, and at the co-op where every decision you make impacts all of the stakeholders.  It makes you hold yourself accountable,” she said.

As she came into the job, she knew that she’d have to engage in some relationship repair because the former manager’s relationship with the board had been tense.  She thinks that good reporting to the board helps build that all-important sense of trust.  Suzuki also said that “finding her footing” regarding reporting took time, and as part of that process the board established weekly check-in meetings with her.  “Having those weekly meetings was really helpful.  I could interact with board members and learn what they need, and find out their strengths and interests.”  She felt like doing that groundwork for reporting and working closely with the board helped establish a strong relationship from the beginning.

“What’s different is that the pace of decision-making as a GM is intense.  I can make up to 10-20 decisions a day, where for the board, they are doing it once a month.  We have to remember we’re in different places regarding our jobs and experiences, but the reason we’re all here is because we care about the co-op.  It’s important we are all aligned and doing what we’re there for.”

One thing the board and GM agreed upon together is that it was important to ask each other a lot of questions.  Suzuki said, “It helps set up expectations.  They are your supervisor, but you also have to help them learn about the co-op’s business.”  Her board also was clear that they wanted her to know that they were also there to support her, and asked her to share with them the best ways they can do that.

Suzuki emphasized that working with her CBLD consultant Thane Joyal was a “godsend” for helping her and her board create good mutual working relationships.  “It’s so important to utilize your board consultant.  It helps to have someone to talk to and to give you perspective.”

“The main thing is the GM-board relationship is something that needs constant attention,” Suzuki said.  “It has to be consistent.  You can’t get frustrated, or leave it alone.  You have to always be communicating.”

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