Gaming industry group's CEO to depart

Gaming industry group's CEO to depart
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Geoff Freeman, who leads the gaming industry’s trade group, has been picked to head up the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the organization announced on Tuesday.

Freeman has been with the American Gaming Association (AGA) since 2013 and will be stepping down in August to take the reins of GMA, an industry group that represents corporations such as Clorox and PepsiCo.

Freeman is leaving on a high note, shortly after the casino gaming industry scored a big Supreme Court victory that paves the way for states to legalize and regulate sports betting.

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“I've always been drawn to industries that have a close connection to consumers and am energized by the opportunity to play a role in driving the growth and evolution of one that is a vital part of people's daily lives,” Freeman said in a release. “I look forward to leading the development of strategies that firmly establish GMA as an effective driver of growth and collaboration in our industry.”

He’s replacing current CEO Pamela Bailey at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“Geoff has a clear understanding that perception drives policy. His approach balances strong offense with smart defense and he's achieved success in leading industries to embrace communications, social media and grassroots efforts as tools of contemporary advocacy," said Benno Dorer, chairman and CEO of The Clorox Company, vice chairman of the GMA Board and a member of the CEO search committee, in a statement.

Freeman’s organization spent $1.38 million on lobbying in Washington last year, about a million dollars less than GMA.

GMA flexed its advocacy muscles by opposing legislation in 2016 to require labels for genetically modified foods. 

While Congress ultimately passed legislation requiring some labeling, GMA lauded the law, which offers some wiggle room on how products are labeled.

In the last two years, however, GMA has been shedding members, losing almost a dozen. It began with Campbell Soup Co. in 2016, which left citing differences in opinion over labeling of genetically modified foods. Campbell initially opposed GMO labeling but reversed course.

The trade group also lost Unilever — which boasts brands including Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Lipton teas and beauty brand Dove — as well candymaker Mars, Tyson Foods, Nestle, Dean Foods, Cargill, The Kraft Heinz Co. and DowDuPont.

In response, GMA has said it is undergoing a "reinvention."

"The industry is facing significant disruption and is evolving — and so is GMA," said a spokesman for the group.

The organization expressed hope that Freeman would be able to boost membership and unify members of GMA.

He has a track record of success, growing the AGA and adding more than a dozen new members in recent years.

“Geoff has a proven track record of building unity, creating successful engagement on complex issues and taking a proactive approach to advocacy that drives growth and expansion," said Billy Cyr, CEO of Freshpet and head of the board search committee, in a statement. "We look forward to benefiting from Geoff's extensive experience in leading transformative change across industries as diverse as health care insurance, travel and tourism, and casino gaming.”

Freeman will also likely receive a hefty raise. In 2016, he earned about $1.6 million. Bailey, according to disclosures, had a total compensation of more than $3 million, including earnings from organizations with ties to GMA. 

Before helming AGA, Freeman served as the chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association.

"Geoff stood out as having a dynamic perspective and is the best person to lead our industry's response to the changing needs of consumers, along with those of the companies — large and small — whose interests GMA represents," said Vivek Sankaran, president and chief operating officer of Frito-Lay and PepsiCo and a member of the search committee, in a statement.