By Ryan Cornelius, Communications Manager, Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, Tipton, Missouri
A 15-year electric cooperative veteran, Stephanie Horst has taken her new position as General Manager in stride. Horst, General Manager of Bon Homme Yankton Electric Association, Inc. in Tabor, S.D., has held the position since early 2017. She became a Certified Cooperative Communicator in 2014. You could say working in the cooperative system is a bit of a family tradition for Horst. I spent some time talking with her about her career, communications and much more.
How did you get into the electric utility business?
I worked in retail management for several years and managed a dental office right before coming into the cooperatives. Our daughters were getting older and more active and I needed to try and find a job in the town that they were going to school in. We were living out in the country and I was working in another town.
My grandfather and great aunt worked at an electric cooperative. I didn’t know a lot about the cooperatives, but I knew it was a great employer because my grandfather was very proud to work at the co-op.
Just to get my foot in the door, I started out as the part-time propane clerk with FEM Electric in Ipswich, S.D. Within a month it was a full-time job. From then I segued into the receptionist position. Through retirements, I then moved into an accounts payable job and then got shifted over to member services. I was operations and member services assistant. From there I became the director of member services and marketing.
How did you become General Manager at Bon Homme Yankton?
I was ready for a new challenge. I put my name in the hat, got an interview at Bon Homme Yankton and got the position.
What piqued your interest about the CCC program and how did it help you?
To be better at my position, I thought the program gave me stamp of approval. The program was something that was going to challenge me. I think very highly of NRECA programs. Because I had grown in my position quite a bit, I was exposed to finance, operations and member service. Internally, I had a good base. What the program help do was give me a broad sweep of what we are as cooperatives.
The little details on the history gets you motivated and passionate about being a part of a cooperative. I was before, but when I went through the program I thought that this was just really cool stuff.
How does your communications and member service background fit into your role as General Manager?
When I went through the program, it gives you that stamp that you’re a professional. The test was pretty grueling.
Now, I still pull out some of those books and that information and refer to it. Going through the program, you really come out with some good information. For example, the public speaking part of it. I’m not the best public speaker yet. I will pull that information out and kind of keep it on hand. I really appreciate the content that’s chosen for the program.
Having a communications plan has greatly helped. I became manager on January 16, 2017, and May 1 we had a significant snowstorm that took down power to 80 percent of our members. Just knowing what to do and communicating that out was so important. I had a plan. I had all of that because I went through the program. It helped a lot.
Communications and how we are presented to the public is vital to cooperatives. Sometimes it’s not recognized yet. It’s important, especially since so many members have lost touch with who we are.
What would you tell an electric cooperative communicator that’s on the fence about the CCC program?
If you have any kind of career goals, it’s a nice credential on your resume but even going through the program it shows others you take your job a little more seriously. It’s something to be proud of, being a part of that family of CCCs.
There are a lot of really good relationships formed when you take part in programs like this and go to the CONNECT Conference and even the New Co-op Communicators Orientation. It’s so neat to see people develop in their careers. It’s just a really good program. It’s made me more passionate about what the cooperatives are. Being a communicator is one of the most fun positions at the cooperative. It’s just an important role within each cooperative.