Thursday, October 06, 2005


stuff and nonsense

as long-time readers know, i have for the most part tried to keep this blog super-positive -- maybe with the exception of talking about the "big four" and the junk coffee they push off on us consumers.

thus i have had little to say about the scaa embezzlement situation, which is tragic. a person trusted by everyone cheated us all.

now that the immediate situation has stabilized, i think it's time to respond to some of the truly horrible things that have been said, by members, non-members, and even otherwise well-meaning board members.

personally i think a lot of this rancor is left over from the recent contentious board elections; and it's time for people to move on from that. it's a new situation.

first, i'd like to say that all the (meager) things i have posted or written on this subject have been given to me and/or vetted by multiple scaa board members, staff, and/or former presidents. thus i can say that the charges here by some of our friends are untrue.

i have not spoken out of turn at all, nor will i here. and further, i will continue to reply with the plain truth and with the facts as i understand them from multiple sources in a position to know.

the scaa isn't trying to hide anything; it is trying to be transparent here. but there is a law-enforcement investigation going on and there are things that the organization can't say right now.

yet the facts are clear: the scaa is non-profit group with a small staff. it functions on a high level of trust.

why? because that's how the specialty coffee business is. and that's actually an admirable fact.

the specialty coffee business is amazing, as i have said many times here, because it operates like a family, on this high level of trust. there was a time not long ago -- before fax and email -- when people would do business solely on a handshake.

coffee businesses in larger cities all used to congregate in a "coffee district" down by the waterfront: as late as the 1960s. the coffeemen used to sit out on their stoops and do deals, or after telephones came into wide use, with office boys to run samples back and forth.

business was done verbally, based on a brownie or a greenie's reputation. since people tended to be in the coffee business because their family had been in the business, their reputation was important to them -- and their fathers and their sons.

when you needed coffee you called around for some, to those with whom your family had done business with for a long time. you agreed on a price verbally, and you delivered the coffee before the paperwork was written out or typed up.

you just had to be worth your word, or no one would do business with you. worse, you knew that they could call up your father, who they had known for 40 years, and shame you.

it really was a situation of honor. and this culture continues in the specialty realm, since the founders of the specialty industry, people like don schoenholt, ted lingle, steve colten, erna knutsen, etc. etc. all learned these ethics when they began in coffee.

indeed maintaining these ethics even in the modern world -- not cheating each other and not cheating the consumer -- is one of the reasons the scaa was founded in contradistinction to the "big four." finally, let me note that ted lingle himself, the chief of the scaa, went to west point, as everyone knows.

and the west point honor culture is famous. . .ted just has this attitude in his soul, not only from west point, but also from his family history in the traditional coffee business i have described.

and he has worked to spread and keep this culture in specialty coffee; in fact, i would even go so far as to say that he expects it, in my brief experience of him. ted personally sets high standards and makes it clear that everyone he deals with should do likewise.

thus no one is more shocked, i am sure, than ted by the recent scandal. the contention that there was a culture of corruption at scaa is just a total falsehood.

and i have to say this, even tho' the people who contend it are friends of mine.

we have to face facts. the scaa is not the only non-profit to have been embezzled from in recent times.

the scaa has and has had many ventures: roasters guild, barista guild, online auctions, conference, the coffee quality institute, to name a few. the accounting for all this is complicated.

the specialty coffee family seems small to us all, yet the scaa is the world's largest trade group. it's easy to forget that.

an expert, inside staffer(s) could easily maintain a "second set" of books or "cook the books" and with care hide illegal activities in a number of ways. and indeed, it appears this is what happened.

but the scaa will recover. it has a number of dedicated volunteer members who raised the necessary US$250,000 to keep the association going on a short-term basis -- 2 days ahead of the planned schedule.

of course, scaa needs to change, to evolve. there's no doubt that this will happen.

instead of tossing about wild rumors, or levelling patently untrue charges, the best thing to do is to resolve to be part of the future, to work to make the change happen, to stand with scaa.

i encourage those who have questions to email mike ferguson at scaa directly. i know both he and ted welcome the input and involvement of members.

and this, dear friends, i hope to be the last thing i need to say on this sad subject until the forensic accountants make their report and the perpetrator(s) are arrested. which they will be, i'm sure.

posted by fortune | 6:20 AM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 4 comments

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