Convergence of Interests
“It resonated with me,” said Laue. She was familiar with the cooperative business model, having served since 2007 on a credit union board and other member-owned organizations. Her interest in energy and sustainability, a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, service on several boards, plus a 30-year executive career in corporate research made her curious about the co-op operations.
The co-op’s emphasis on engagement and member satisfaction spoke to her own sense of values. “It appealed to my sense of community spirit – the desire to give back.”
When an opening came up on the board in 2016, she applied and was shortly appointed.
Laue said that the application was detailed enough so a prospective director could get a clear sense of the demands of the role. The board also was unified that an applicant would have a business background, experience in policy making, planning, financial savvy and public relations.
Long Professional Experience Met Board’s Needs
She fit the board’s expectations with professional experience as assistant vice president for corporate research at USAA, a San Antonio based insurance and financial company that serves millions of military families. She spent 13 years there in ever expanding research roles. After leaving USAA, she was the research director for the San Antonio Express-News from 2005 to 2014.
“I saw the application and I thought, ‘I could do this.’”
Being a researcher, she also plunged into a study of Bandera and the rural electrification movement nationally and in Texas.
After her appointment and subsequent election about a year later, she said what she initially could never have prepared for was the technical side of the business as a utility. “I was surprised by the whole scope of things the board does and the complexities of the grid – how we get electricity, provide it to members and charge for it,” she said.
And she said she spends hours each week studying generation and distribution. Despite her background in member-focused groups, Laue said that targeted education and training for directors in the electric cooperative business model – particularly in governance issues — is necessary because of the complexity of issues that directors confront.
The co-op requires its new directors to obtain NRECA educational credentials within the first year of service.
NRECA Director Training is “Impressive”
“I have been very impressed with the high level of education and training provided by NRECA. I say that as someone who has had a lot of exposure to university-level education and business seminars and workshops. The materials of a [Director] course and instructors are very thorough, very good.”
The training has accelerated her abilities to be an effective participant on the board, a necessity, she said, because of Bandera’s rapid embrace of
solar technology and providing broadband services to members.
Broadband is an example, she said, of the relationship between the co-op and the members. The members pushed for it and BEC is actively installing and planning for fiber in several areas and provides free wi-fi in the downtown area of the town of Bandera.
Laue said the project is still in its early stage but has involved the installation of hundreds of miles of fiber. It will be an essential component in the service area’s infrastructure and its economy. As the construction continues, it will be available for subscription at up to a Gig per second, the state of the art.
This broadband investment, she said, is crucial if rural and suburban communities are to compete in today’s economy.
“Our experience in this parallels the reason co-ops came into existence in the first place – to provide a necessary service to members. We are, of course, very excited about it.”
The co-op has also been recognized for its vigorous adoption of solar technologies. BEC has just constructed a 1.9 MW solar farm, capable of delivering 3 million kWh to its members. It reduces peak load and enables members to buy solar directly from BEC. Plus, the co-op is going head-to-head with third party solar companies by offering ground-mount and rooftop installations to its members.
And just last month, the co-op’s expertise in solar enabled them to be selected by NRECA International to design a solar and energy facility in Totota, a Liberian community of 6,500 in West Africa.
Laue said when she came to Bandera with a dream, she never expected just how big that vision – one of service to others, living sustainably, and lifelong learning – expanded since joining Bandera’s boardroom.