By Abbey Sprague, CCC, Communications/Marketing Coordinator, Midland Power Co-op, Jefferson, Iowa

Early in Sarah Cron’s career, she spent six years employed with a telemarketing agency that worked exclusively with natural gas and electric utilities. “In that time, I learned a lot about the utility industry, and was fascinated by the complexity and significance of utility infrastructure,” said Cron, CEO and General Manager at Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative, Aitkin, Minn.

She began a career in the electric co-op industry 19 years ago, as the Marketing Manager at a small distribution co-op. “A consequence of working for a small distribution co-op is that you are forced to run an efficient organization, with a minimal staff working a variety of positions. This varied knowledge in my co-op inspired me to want to learn even more about the industry,” said Cron. She advanced her training beyond the marketing and member services arena, completing the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Management Internship Program (MIP). According to Cron, the training she received through MIP solidified her desire to manage an electric distribution co-op. Her goal became a reality in January 2019, when she became the CEO and General Manager of Mille Lacs Energy Co-op.

We asked Cron for a few thoughts on the CCC program and a career in co-op communications. The following is the feedback that she offered.

What piqued your interest about the CCC program and how did it help you?

As I became more involved in the marketing and member services groups through my G&T and statewide organization, I noticed that many of my peers had completed the CCC program. When I inquired about the program, everyone I talked to spoke about the value of the program. At that time, one of my peers from another distribution co-op was on the CCC board, and she encouraged me to work towards my certification. I looked into it and began my journey.

First, the biggest thing the CCC program did for me was to help me get organized. I was not prepared for the amount and scope of reading assignments and had to figure out how to incorporate that into my daily work. Beyond that, I discovered that so much of the information I was reading I would want to access in the future. I wanted to come up with a way to index the information for future reference.

Secondly, the scope of the reading greatly helped me add value in my role as the communicator and corporate spokesperson at my co-op. The depth of knowledge acquired through the CCC process gave me the confidence to communicate about a variety of topics, regardless of their technical difficulty.

Lastly, the CCC program not only enhanced my capabilities to communicate about industry topics at a variety of levels, it also enhanced my capabilities to communicate with a people at a variety of levels. As a General Manager, you must communicate with staff members, board members, community members, legislators, union representatives, and other external stakeholders. In addition, a General Manager must be prepared to communicate through a variety of venues, written word, electronic, small groups, large presentations, etcetera. The CCC program was valuable in helping me prepare for these types of communications.

What insight can you offer a co-op communicator that is at the start of his/her career?

Cooperation Among Cooperatives is real. Do not be afraid to reach out to your peers and use them to help you do your job. Additionally, realize that being part of the co-op family means that you have wide access and it doesn’t stop within your G&T or your Statewide. Regardless of the size of your co-op, you have access to over 900 electric distribution co-ops nation-wide. You can reach out to other G&Ts, other Statewides, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and Touchstone Energy. The list is endless. You can even reach out to co-ops in other industries. Do not underestimate the value of working with your local credit unions, grocery co-ops, agriculture co-ops, etcetera. Once you are a seasoned professional, return the favor.

What would you tell an electric cooperative communicator, or their CEO, that’s on the fence about the CCC program?

The CCC program is a commitment of your time that will pay dividends during your entire career. Whether you choose to spend your entire career as an electric co-op communicator, move into a senior leadership role, or ultimately lead an electric co-op, you will gain a depth of knowledge that will serve as a solid base of growth and success.