Nineteen years ago, Dane Bradfield went to work for Lincoln County Power District No. 1 in Nevada as an apprentice lineworker.

Today, Bradfield is the general manager after successfully completing the small district’s innovative employee development program that gave staff members a chance to compete for the top job while also getting an overview of the electric power industry.

Luttrell gave the board more than three years’ notice of his planned departure, ensuring that the Panaca-based district had plenty of time to train a replacement from among its 20 employees.

Five staff members signed up for the eight-month training program, which included an initial assessment of their leadership skills; developing basic knowledge such as business writing, business ethics, basic accounting and customer service; learning more about power supply issues; and completing assignments that included forecasting future demand.

Luttrell served as mentor and coach to the applicants while the board assessed the candidates and picked three finalists, who were each asked to submit a 10-year strategic plan for the district. The directors ultimately chose Bradfield to become general manager in November 2022.

Bradfield says the process was intense, time-consuming and highly educational. He continued to do his job as manager of the construction and maintenance line crew while participating in the development program.

“My family didn’t see me a lot during those months,” he says. “I knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge. There was so much more going on at the utility than I was seeing as a lineman.”

Fortunately, Bradfield says, the transition plan called for Luttrell to stay on for four months after Bradfield became the general manager to help guide him. Luttrell acted as a consultant during that period.

“There were times during the long training process when I thought, ‘Wow, is this ever going to end?’” Bradfield says. “Now, I wish it had gone longer and that I could have mentored with Dave for a longer period of time. But he’s been gracious enough to answer the phone whenever I call.”

Luttrell says the transition went smoothly for both of them.

“After he assumed the helm as general manager, I helped Dane behind the scenes and worked from home on rates, load forecast, power supply contracts and other matters,” he says. “Dane was the leader with the employees, the board and the members. I was just a resource available for him to use as he took over the reins.”

Luttrell says his biggest concern was that the other finalists might end up resenting whomever became the new general manager, but Bradfield says he’s seen no evidence of that.

“I think, in the very beginning, there was disappointment among the other candidates, who were all really strong,” Bradfield says. “But I’ve never felt at all like they were ever against me being in this position. Everyone has been extremely supportive.”

It helped, Bradfield says, that the small staff has always been a close-knit group.

“Many of them have known each other their whole lives,” he says.

Luttrell advises other co-ops interested in creating a similar employee development program to begin planning well in advance of their current CEO’s retirement.

“It’s not something you can pull off in the last three months of a CEO’s career,” he says. “Sometimes, CEOs don’t want to come out and say they’re going to retire because they’re afraid they’ll become a lame duck and their power will be weakened. But I didn’t perceive that happening at all. No one said, ‘Oh, Dave’s retiring, don’t worry too much about what he says or thinks.’ It’s not going to weaken your credibility.”

Bradfield urges employees from all departments to consider participating in a training program if their co-op offers one.

“I would say go for it,” he says. “General managers and CEOs have got to be developed from somewhere, and they need people with experience and leadership skills. If you’re willing to accept the challenges and take on the work, you can be that person.”

Every co-op needs to customize its own succession plan, says Luttrell, who now lives in Utah and works part time for NRECA as an executive recruiter.

“Ours may not be the shoe that fits everybody,” he says. “But for us, the proof is in the pudding with Dane. He’s succeeding, and that’s really what it’s all about—to pick the next leader to take the utility forward.”