When Duane Highley became president/CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., one of his first orders of business was finding more ways to explain the Cooperative Difference to employees and consumer-members. Also on his to-do list: opening the pathways of communication between the statewide association and G&T's employees and distribution co-ops.

For his efforts, Highley earned the 2019 J.C. Brown Communication Leadership Award, presented Jan. 10 at NRECA's CEO Close-Up.

"Communication has always been and will always be a key to the great success of our nation's electric cooperatives. I am honored to receive the J.C. Brown Communication Leadership Award," Highley told fellow electric co-op leaders after receiving the award from NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.

Matheson described Highley as "an effective advocate for co-ops in his home state as well as being a strong and effective voice for the cooperative movement nationally."

Shortly after becoming CEO of the Little-Rock-based G&T and statewide association in 2011, Highley remodeled the headquarters lobby—but not with new paint and carpets. Touches included flag posts showing the seven cooperative principles, floor-to-ceiling vinyl wraps and larger-than-life lineworker images, "so that when anyone walked into the building they would know exactly what AECC does," said a letter nominating him for the award.

Highley began the statewide and G&T's involvement in the Touchstone Energy Strategy Executive System and the Balanced Scorecard. On a regular basis, findings are shared via maps and diagrams with directors, employees and member co-ops to improve operations and management processes.

Several of those discussions have led to a higher profile for the G&T's communications department with more investment in digital technology. Currently, Highley is involved with the co-ops' comprehensive social media promotions strategy.

The nominating letter praised Highley for his "highly engaging and comprehensive" communication style that appeals to a variety of audiences, including directors, policymakers and consumer-members.

Under Highley's leadership, Arkansas Business, a weekly business journal, awarded AECC "Best Places to Work" recognition in 2016 and 2018. In particular, employees gave the G&T high marks on corporate culture communication.

In remarks about his J.C. Brown award, one of the judges said, "Highley has demonstrated a deep and thoughtful commitment to the cooperative spirit and worked diligently to use a broad variety of communications and marketing efforts to effectively manage and enhance the operations at his cooperative."

The award memorializes the late J.C. Brown, who as editor and publisher of NRECA's RE Magazine (1973-1993) is best remembered for his dedication to communication as a vital link connecting co-ops with each other as well as with their members. The five-judge panel consists of communication and management experts in academia, business and industry, including electric co-ops.

For questions about the J.C. Brown CEO Communication Leadership Award, contact Anne Prince, anne.prince@nreca.coop, 703-907-5544. The award is sponsored by the Certified Cooperative Communicator Program and the Council of Rural Electric Communicators in conjunction with the Spotlight on Excellence Awards Program.