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Greg Ternet’s co-op career got off to a pretty inauspicious start.
Thirty years ago this month, he was an 18-year-old intern working a summer job as a groundman for
Hendricks Power Cooperative in his hometown of Avon, Indiana. The crew foreman had put him behind the wheel of a digger-derrick truck, and on his first day, while coming around a corner, the truck slipped off the pavement and dropped into the soft gravel of the shoulder.
In an instant, the massive vehicle rolled over into the ditch. The truck was totaled, but Ternet (pronounced Tur-NAY) emerged almost without a scratch.
“He had a small cut,” recalls Terry Hilderbrand, who, as a 10-year veteran on the Hendricks Power lines, was on the scene that day. “But it quit bleeding before we could get the first-aid kit out.”
The mishap could have easily cast a shadow over Ternet’s future at the co-op.
“It happened on July 3,” Ternet says. “So we had the next day off for the holiday, and I kind of had the thought that I might not be working there much longer. But other than the ribbing, we just went on.”
He remembers that ribbing almost as well as the incident itself.
“I caught a lot of grief,” Ternet says. “Our purchasing agent was quite a penny-pincher, and he sat me down and told me they were going to start doing payroll deductions to pay for that truck. It was just a joke though. That’s kind of the way it is with the line crews. They have a lot of fun with each other.”
Today, Ternet ponders that early brush with infamy from the chief executive’s office at Hendricks Power, where he’s spent the last four years.
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He rose swiftly through the ranks. Returning for summer work and occasional Christmas breaks through four years of college, Ternet signed on full time with the co-op in 1993. After seven years on the line crews, he moved up to line superintendent, but not without some misgivings.
“I really didn’t feel ready to go inside,” Ternet says. “I really liked to work outdoors, and I loved being a lineman.”
His relative youth might have raised a few eyebrows among the crews as well, he recalls.
“It was awkward,” Ternet says. “Some of the linemen would call me their ‘kid boss.’ But I think they respected what I did, and I definitely respected what they did.”
He’d reached director of operations by 2008, when the CEO job opened up at Parke County Rural Electric Membership Corporation, the next co-op to the west. Ternet didn’t even have to move; his home was on Hendricks Power’s western fringes, just 30 miles from his new co-op’s headquarters in Rockville.
And when Hendricks Power was looking for a new CEO in 2015, he was right where he needed to be.
“I never moved,” Ternet says. “I just stayed in the house I was living in.”
His status as a member appealed to the Hendricks Power board, says Don Stinson, its president. Stinson was vice president at the time, and he recalls that Ternet’s experience on the line crews was even more persuasive as the board considered applicants for the top job.
“Starting at the bottom and working his way to the top like he did, we knew he truly understood all the operations of the co-op,” Stinson says. “He understands what employees go through every day, and that has really been a plus.”
Ternet has had plenty of formal education. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration, and he’s a graduate of NRECA’s Robert I. Kabat Management Internship Program.
And he’s piled on other co-op work over the years, serving on the boards of Kentucky-based United Utility Supply Cooperative and the Hendricks County Economic Development Partnership; presiding over the managers’ association at Hendricks Power’s G&T, Wabash Valley Power Association in Indianapolis; and serving on a range of committees at the G&T and Indiana Electric Cooperatives, the statewide association.
But it’s his work on the lines and the mutual respect he and the line crews developed before he moved inside that are the keys to his success, Ternet says.
“It’s the building blocks that have made me what I am now.”
Know someone RE Magazine could profile for our “Front Lines” column? We’re looking for co-op operations and member services staffers, from meter readers to lineworkers to engineers, who make things work at electric co-ops nationwide. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can reach writer John Vanvig directly at email@example.com or 360-624-4595.