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TEC President: Culture Sets Cooperatives Apart

August 7, 2013

"Do you think the next 75 years will look like the last?" TEC President and CEO Mike Williams asked his audience during the opening session of the 73rd TEC Annual Meeting Aug. 4–7 in Austin.

The conditions that have allowed electric cooperatives to be successful in the past are not assured going forward.

"Our future success will be a function of our willingness and ability to adapt," he said.

Electric co-ops' success in the 21st century will also be driven by culture. "A winning culture is the result of truly knowing your purpose," Williams said. He stressed that although strategy matters, a "great strategy without a compelling purpose is like a beautiful highway that doesn't lead anywhere that people want to go."

Williams highlighted some of the findings in the 21st Century Committee's final report that are important to keep in mind for the future:

  • The health of the electric co-op program will largely be determined by the success of distribution co-ops.
  • Members know more and expect more from co-ops.
  • Technology will fundamentally change the electric industry and introduce new competition.
  • Social media is changing the way business is conducted. Co-ops need to recognize that it is one of many ways to interact with and engage members.
  • Consumers have many more choices but often simply want to know who they can trust.

Williams suggested that being a top-notch energy provider might not be enough. "Can you be a first-class energy provider if the communities you serve are not healthy?" he asked.

He pointed out that electric cooperatives have an advantage that no other energy provider can claim—and that is being a co-op. Simply "being ourselves" and not trying to be like just another power company resonates with most co-op members. Being authentic and genuinely concerned about members results in more trust and loyalty, he explained.

Williams referred to author Simon Sinek, who said that people don't necessarily buy what you do, but why you do it. "What engages the mind, but it's the why, or our purpose, that wins the heart," Williams said. "Think about people and organizations that you feel loyalty toward—is it what they do or what they stand for?"

It is critical to embrace cooperatives' diversity by living the co-op principles—especially cooperation among cooperatives. "Being a co-op allows us to be any size, but plug into the vast national co-op network and be bigger and smarter at the same time," Williams said.

In closing, Williams suggested that the best leaders are "merchants of hope" and "entrepreneurs of meaning," explaining that "co-op country has always been about hope—a belief that we could lead a better life. A belief that we could help our neighbors lead a better life."

Some have said co-ops "democratized the American dream for those living in the dark."

"Folks, this is our history, this is our heritage and most importantly this is our future," Williams said.