One of the electric cooperative community’s most recognizable figures announced recently he’ll retire next year.

Sheldon Petersen, CEO of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) since 1995, will officially step down during the first half of 2021, subject to the hiring of a successor.

Petersen, 67, joined CFC in 1983 as an area representative. As CEO, he grew the CFC loan portfolio from about $7 billion to nearly $27 billion. He’s well-known among co-ops for explaining complex fiscal topics in plain language understandable for all audiences.

The value of Petersen’s contributions to the cooperative network “cannot be overstated,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.

“His leadership at CFC has enabled co-ops to make significant investments in their communities, and on a personal level, his integrity, commitment, and values are above reproach,” said Matheson. “His legacy provides all of us with a standard to emulate.”

During Petersen’s tenure, CFC expanded its offerings to help co-ops adapt to a rapidly changing electric utility industry. New services included emergency lines of credit, long-term financing, and specialized financing such as loan syndications and loan resales through Farmer Mac and other partners.

“For co-ops, moving forward means not only navigating an ever-expanding number of disruptive forces, but also continuing to meet the same historic obligations we always have,” Petersen said at CFC’s 51st annual meeting in New Orleans in March.

“Understanding our members and responding to their evolving needs has always been a core strength. We need to keep raising the bar.”

CFC’s board of directors will lead the search for a new CEO and will establish a committee to oversee the process. An executive search firm will also assist the effort.

“We thank Sheldon for his leadership and strategic vision in establishing CFC as the most trusted financial resources for electric cooperatives,” said CFC Board President Dean Tesch. “Sheldon has created an organizational culture focused on member service and a commitment to excellence.”