Earl Hansen is not at all sentimental in discussing his approaching retirement from the board at New Hampshire Electric Co-op.
Though most co-op boards across the nation have no term-limit policy, NHEC caps a director’s length of service at 15 years.
But it’s really not about term limits, says Hansen, who has occupied the chairman’s seat every year but his first one.
Known among the cooperative network for his unblinking candor on many issues, Hansen said his retirement would have been imminent because he no longer feels the fire that drove him for so long, nor does he have the enthusiasm to keep pace with the technology and the explosive pace of change.
“Time for new blood, new ideas!” Hansen said. “Time for a new and more inquisitive person to take my place.”
At any point in their service, directors have a duty to look objectively at their tenure and honestly ask themselves if they are still as passionate as the first day they walked into the boardroom, Hansen believes.
Enthusiasm and practicality drove his own service – not only with the board but during the 20 years he was employed at the co-op in many capacities from plant and right-of-way manager to state lobbyist to director of economic development. He returned to the co-op board as a write-in candidate after waiting the required one year before a former employee could be eligible for the board. (The co-op has since changed to a three-year waiting period.)
His previous knowledge of the co-op may have seemed to be all the preparation he needed, but it was the interaction with other board members that kept his enthusiasm stoked. Said Hansen: “I was prepared, but as in any position, I became much better at my job as I learned more about how to deal with each one of the individual board member personalities – all very bright people but, oh so different.”
Following are some of Hansen’s observations as a state and national co-op leader where he has served on several NRECA committees, including the NRECA Resolutions Committee and the National Renewables Cooperative Organization board.
What motivated you to want to serve on the NHEC Board? “Very simply, the members. Having worked for them, with them, and around them for a good period of time, I felt I could assist them and the directors with my knowledge and skills.”
What kept you enthused? “The skills and desires to better the co-op put forth by the other directors. None of them were just “riding the rails.” They all wanted to bring NHEC to a better place. We all wanted NHEC to be a leader not a follower.”
How important is education to a board member?
“The desire to learn permeated our Board. One of our hardest things was trying to self-evaluate. This becomes difficult when you go to other meetings and find almost all of the other directors looking up to your co-op for leadership. At the same time, it made us work harder to try and stay ahead.”
What are important skills a board chairman needs?
Being a good listener. Asking what is this person REALLY saying? What do they really want? Being fair to all helps make a good chair.
What kept you awake at night?
Nothing kept me awake at night. Why? I tried to deal with issues in the board meetings, directly after the meeting, or scheduling an issue for a later time and making sure that we all were prepped for the issue if it was to be dealt with later – not just ‘put off.’ A director really should not ‘worry’ about these issues. A major problem with many directors is that they do worry about these types of things when that is not their job. They have to stick to the tried and true of setting policy and let their one employee — the CEO — worry about carrying it out (not at all as simple, as I have put it).
Do you have some quick advice for other board members?
A long time ago we made succession planning a CEO priority. It has worked quite well. The Board even interviewed several employment agencies in preparation for the CEO retirement. We did this before we (or he) knew when he was retiring. Three years later when he retired we had all our ducks in order and the process went very smoothly. Keeping up with our infrastructure is right up there with succession planning. We put it on the CEO’s plate and we appear to be creeping ahead of the game.
What issues loom ahead for NHEC?
Probably our biggest concern would be for NHEC, through legislation, to become re-regulated by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. We worked very hard to become self-regulating. It would be a major set-back if we lost that privilege. Federal regulations are always a problem for New England, so they are something that staff will just have to keep an eye on and keep us advised.