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Past recipients of NRECA’s J.C. Brown CEO Communication Leadership Award have included former engineers, financial analysts and, every so often, communicators.
The winner of the 2022 J.C. Brown award is one such individual. Middle Tennessee Electric President and CEO Chris Jones is a former reporter and editor who served as vice president of communications and member services at the Murfreesboro-based electric cooperative before being named the top executive in 2013.
Jones received the award Jan. 10 during NRECA’s 2022 CEO Close-Up in Phoenix. In his acceptance remarks, he said it’s a “great blessing we share in simply being part of the electric cooperative way and for being granted the opportunity to serve in such a way as to render a vital service…and innovate in a changing industry. There is virtue in what we do…that’s a blessing.”
Jones helped lead the successful execution of several major initiatives with a “servant’s heart and skills of a great communicator,” according to his award submission. Those initiatives include the 2020 merger with a municipal utility and providing broadband services to MTE members through the 2018 acquisition of a telecommunications subsidiary.
“Chris believes what’s best for our members is also best for our cooperative. He approaches all matters with a focus on communications,” said Larry Rose, a communications and marketing consultant at the co-op.
In July 2020, the co-op acquired the assets of the Murfreesboro Electric Department. MTE added 75,000 new members, making it the nation’s second-largest electric co-op.
During the two-year process, Jones “paved the way for a smooth transition by being transparent and establishing effective methods of communication with employees of both companies, former MED customers, current MTE members, City of Murfreesboro leadership and community stakeholders,” according to his award submission.
Jones’ “servant’s heart” has built goodwill among members and co-op staff. At the pandemic’s outset, he hosted weekly virtual town halls with employees that continue today. And Rose cited Jones’ hands-on approach to member relations.
“When a small area of our service territory was without power intermittently for an extended period of time, he took it upon himself to knock on doors, meet personally with members and check on their status,” Rose said.
One of the three judges who helped select this year’s winner gave Jones’ award submission a perfect score, and another cited his “notable” use of a strategic plan to communicate mission and tactics among members and employees.
First presented in 2004, the J.C. Brown award recognizes a co-op CEO or general manager who is committed to advancing communication at the co-op and in the overall industry. It is named in honor of the late editor and publisher of RE Magazine, J.C. Brown, who led the publication from 1973 to 1993.