Suzy Morgan remembers her total surprise when she was invited to interview to fill a vacancy on the Wake Electric EMC board.
Volunteer work in the community and her husband’s service on one of the co-op’s subsidiary boards had brought her in contact socially with a couple of the directors and employees, but she says she never gave much thought about the co-op except as a consumer.
“I paid the household electric bill,” she said. “I tried to stay on top of energy issues, but that was about it. You can understand why I was surprised.”
Then, ten years ago, the board’s invitation came. The interview led to an appointment, which then led to an elected position. She is now the board vice president.
The invitation arrived at a perfect time. She was 42 and was winding down from a busy agenda being what she describes as an active “professional volunteer” at schools, charities, church and various events in her suburban community just north of Raleigh, N.C.
By 2006, she had reached a point where she had some time on her hands.
“I gave it a lot of thought before I interviewed. Initially, it appealed to my sense of community service. I was always looking for ways to make my town a better place, but I had no real idea of what co-op service would mean. It means I have learned a lot of things I had never before considered. It also means I have to take a ‘big picture’ look at many things that come up.”
For example, seeing the big picture was the best service she said she could render to her co-op recently when she was part of exhaustive efforts to find new nominees for the nine-person board.
She resisted a temptation to automatically give preference to females as a way to bring more gender balance to the board. “Diversity only for the sake of diversity isn’t good unless you also get the right fit and balance.”
Morgan said she is sensitive about “diversity-for-the-sake-of-diversity” because she said she knows that a major reason her invitation came was because of her gender. She called it a legacy appointment.
“ It’s this legacy thing that has led to the lack of diversity you see on boards and when you go to meetings with large numbers of co-op directors.
“I am not saying it is bad. There is a reason because in the beginning of co-ops, it was men who got it started and men who ran it. When it came time to change board members, those early members would pass it over to someone they knew. Or someone they were related to. So it just perpetuated itself. Also, it has led to some directors serving many years – even decades.”
Morgan said that to better serve the future of the co-op, it was necessary for her to consider only the quality of nominees, regardless of gender or race. As it turned out, the board identified two men as potential nominees.
The growing sophistication of boards will lead to greater diversity throughout the cooperative network, Morgan believes.
The biggest challenge, she said, is reaching all younger members in a meaningful way that inspires them to identify with their co-ops and participate as members, not just as consumers. “We need new ideas and fresh perspectives,” she said.
For her, she said she is always grateful for her opportunity.
“I feel so blessed for this to have come into my life. Now, even ten years later, every day I feel like serving on this board makes me feel like I contribute to a greater good,” she said.
What surprised you most about joining the board?
I was so naïve. I thought it would be like a volunteer opportunity and I remember thinking, ‘Sure, I will help out.’ I remember my first meeting and the next week I went to a statewide. The language was confusing. All the terms and acronyms! I was always asking, ‘What does this or that mean?’ I had no idea how much knowledge you needed to understand power supply and infrastructure. It was trial by fire. Thankfully, I had the time to devote to it, but I didn’t realize how much time it would take to even have information enough to begin asking the right questions. I didn’t know the impact our decisions would have on our members.
Was your training and director education helpful?
I was thankful about the requirement [at my co-op] that we obtain our CCD and BLC. It was so vital. I recently earned my Gold credential. I had no idea how much it would impact what I knew about business or technology or power delivery or the democratic governance process. My colleagues on the board are great and knowledgeable. They embraced me and never put pressure on me. From my first day to today, I feel like we strive for the same goals. Also, our management team is first class. Our CEO Jim Mangum is phenomenal. That is key. We listen to his recommendations and then discuss.
What impresses you most about the cooperative business model?
It is so refreshing to focus on members and put them first before profits. We have about 40,000 meters in seven counties we are responsible for. As a member, the thing that keeps you on track is asking, ‘How would this decision affect me?’ You put yourself in their place.
Are you concerned that younger people – male and female – are missing the message about rural electric cooperatives?
Younger people are more socially conscious. We need to tell the story about how our mission is to improve the quality of life. We need to share our core values — that we take pride in our work and work together. It is all about being selfless. They will respond to a message like that.