Manager, CDS Consulting Cooperative
Marilyn Scholl stepped into the co-op world in 1978 when she took a job in her neighborhood corner grocery store, Gordon Park Cooperative in Milwaukee Wisconsin. She never stepped out. Instead, she turned a decade of working in and managing food co-ops into a lifetime of contributions to the cooperative community.
In 1987 after nine years of working in and managing co-ops, Scholl returned to Wisconsin to work for the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC), helping to create education programs for all types of co-ops. Scholl saw the value of board training and governance and pioneered a food co-op consulting team that became CDS Consulting Co-op. She helped turn the 4-member non-profit into a 32-member cooperative that has become a leader in cooperative training and support. CDS CC consultants help member-driven co-ops become better businesses, using data-driven analysis to improve competitiveness and efficiency without losing their cooperative identity.
Scholl is known in the co-op community to be an educator with the heart of a cooperative entrepreneur, relishing the challenges of sustainability, membership care and strategic planning. Working with Ann Hoyt at the UWCC, Scholl organized the Cooperative Management Institute, a multi-week program teaching effective business management and data-driven decision making.
Scholl was among the first cooperative educators in the country to bring systematic governance approaches to food co-ops. She and her colleagues at CDS Consulting Co-op recently developed a new model for cooperative governance called the Four Pillars of Cooperative Governance, designed to help boards, managers and members build sustainable and thriving co-op businesses.
Scholl is the co-author of the well-used Ownership Toolbox, a membership building program and she is the creator of Partners for Life, a program for building customer service. Her speeches, articles and videos have become essential training materials for generations of co-op managers and board members.
In 2002, Scholl identified a growing interest nationally in new food-coop development and exploited the opportunity to expand the sector. With the help of National Cooperative Bank and National Cooperative Grocers, she worked with a team to create Food Co-op 500, a small grants program for start-ups. Food Co-op 500 became the Food Co-op Initiative, a non-profit that has supported the opening of more than 130 new food co-ops. Scholl has served on FCI’s board of directors since its inception.
Scholl has also been a guiding force behind planning at CCMA, working to keep conference topics relevant and useful. “No other event did so much to bring the food cooperatives together…to effect change and clarify direction,” said 2010 Hall of Fame inductee David Thompson.
After serving as an advisor to two regional cooperative grocer associations in 2004 Scholl led the team that resulted in the reorganization of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, using her considerable listening and leadership skills to bring together a diverse group of co-ops to build a powerful business association and purchasing cooperative. Today National Co+op Grocers represents 148 co-ops operating more than 200 stores in 37 states.
Scholl has played a prominent leadership role in nearly all the major developments in the U.S. Food co-op sector in the last 25 years, helping to turn a disconnected group of unaligned, under-performing co-op stores into an integrated sector that leverages members’ purchasing power and provides robust support for store operations and new store development.