Flippin' the Switch

S4 E8: A Fond Farewell with Jeff Clark, CEO

October 26, 2023 Jones-Onslow EMC Season 4 Episode 8
S4 E8: A Fond Farewell with Jeff Clark, CEO
Flippin' the Switch
More Info
Flippin' the Switch
S4 E8: A Fond Farewell with Jeff Clark, CEO
Oct 26, 2023 Season 4 Episode 8
Jones-Onslow EMC

Let's journey through the inspiring career of Jeff Clark, our visionary CEO at Jones Onslow EMC. As he prepares to retire, Jeff opens up about his accidental entry into the electric cooperative industry and his transformative leadership. From his humble beginnings to his daring decision to move from Florida for greater opportunities, Jeff reveals an intimate picture of his professional evolution. 

Technology's impact in the cooperative industry is undeniable, and under Jeff's guidance, Jones Onslow EMC has stayed ahead of the curve. He passionately discusses the challenges posed by emerging energy sources like solar, and their integration into the grid. Hear about the diverse initiatives he's implemented all of which have significantly shaped our organization. 

As we bid farewell to Jeff, he shares his future plans that span exciting trips to Singapore and Scotland, and his desire to remain connected to the community. Join us for this touching conversation, as we honor Jeff's immense contributions and wish him the best in his retirement.

Run Time: 53 minutes

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Let's journey through the inspiring career of Jeff Clark, our visionary CEO at Jones Onslow EMC. As he prepares to retire, Jeff opens up about his accidental entry into the electric cooperative industry and his transformative leadership. From his humble beginnings to his daring decision to move from Florida for greater opportunities, Jeff reveals an intimate picture of his professional evolution. 

Technology's impact in the cooperative industry is undeniable, and under Jeff's guidance, Jones Onslow EMC has stayed ahead of the curve. He passionately discusses the challenges posed by emerging energy sources like solar, and their integration into the grid. Hear about the diverse initiatives he's implemented all of which have significantly shaped our organization. 

As we bid farewell to Jeff, he shares his future plans that span exciting trips to Singapore and Scotland, and his desire to remain connected to the community. Join us for this touching conversation, as we honor Jeff's immense contributions and wish him the best in his retirement.

Run Time: 53 minutes

Speaker 1:

Welcome listeners to the latest edition of flipping the switch, the podcast from Jones Onslow EMC Folks, we got a very special podcast for you this month. We're going to be interviewing Jeff Clark, our CEO, who has been our CEO since 2015. And that's what we're focusing on. I'm going to be interviewing Jeff. He has announced his retirement and he'll be with us for a couple more months, but the ladies have done a great interview with him and you're going to learn a lot about Jeff, a lot about the electric utility business and his passion of members. So, with that said, let's start flipping the switch.

Speaker 2:

We are featuring our CEO, jeff Clark. As some of you may have read in a couple editions of our spotlight, jeff is leaving us after a very extended career in the co-op world and we are sad to see him go. But we wanted to share a little bit about his journey with the co-op, his time at Jones Onslow, and just so you can kind of get to know him a little bit and send him off with a great farewell. So let's get started, jeff, welcome.

Speaker 3:

Thank you.

Speaker 2:

We are so happy to have you here, and we have come up with a robust list of 10 questions. Some will be rapid, some may not. We'll see how it goes, so we're going to get started. All right. So one of the things that we were talking about before we got started was you've been in this world for quite some time, I believe around 50 years, which seems like a lot to some people in a short time for others.

Speaker 3:

Yes, it does.

Speaker 2:

But when you're reflecting back on your time in this environment, what inspired you to pursue a career in the electric co-operative industry?

Speaker 3:

That's a very interesting question and the initial answer is nothing inspired me to seek a career in the electrical world. I actually got into this by accident. I went to college right out of high school with two of my best friends from high school. We went down to the University of South Florida in Tampa and, of course, three guys away from home, with no supervision of any kind. It just didn't seem to be what I wanted to do and my grades actually kind of presented themselves in a fashion that echoed that situation. So when I got done I went home for the summer and got a summer job and then I tried to go back down to South Florida and get back in there and they said well, we really don't want you to come back down.

Speaker 2:

Oh no.

Speaker 3:

I said what do you mean? And they said yeah, you didn't do too well the first time around and we're not interested in that. I said OK, they said here's the deal, though. Florida had a strong community college system in that time and they said if you go to a community college and get an AA, then we can't not accept you the next time you come down here. So I was like what am I going to do?

Speaker 3:

And I bumped into a friend of mine I don't even remember where at this point in time, because that's over 50 years ago, and he was working at the local electric cooperative in the town that I grew up in and he said hey, what are you doing? And I said I don't know. Trying to figure it out, he said I am leaving this job at the co-op that I have been doing for a couple of years. It's I work at night, I'm a dispatcher, but he said it allowed me the opportunity to go to school during the day and I've got my degree. He said I'm going to stay in the engineering department here with the company. He says you ought to apply for this job. And I said you know what I'm going to do that and I applied for the job and I got it. So for almost five years I worked from midnight to eight in the morning, got off of work, drove to Tampa, went to school. Oh, actually, I had to go to the community college first and finish my.

Speaker 3:

AA, and they couldn't not take me back.

Speaker 2:

You had redeemed yourself.

Speaker 3:

And their eyes, I think. So they let me back in and it took me a little while to go through all of that. It was about four, four and a half years, but I finally graduated and the manager of the cooperative down there, who just retired within the last three or four months he was the manager of that cooperative the manager for 50 years Wow. He called me down to his office and he said hey, what are you going to do? And I said I'm thinking about going to law school. He said interesting, and this was a. This was in the late 1970s, so there was a lot of turmoil in the banking business and we live by Cape Canaveral and a lot of engineers had just been let go there and very uncertain times in some industries. The savings and loan associations had gotten into some things they shouldn't have been doing. And he said let me tell you something.

Speaker 3:

He said. You know you've got a cause. He seemed to be a pretty bright young man. He said if you stayed here until you were 62 years old, you could get like 75% of whatever you were making in the last couple of years for the rest of your life.

Speaker 2:

That's a huge amount, I said hmm, that's kind of interesting.

Speaker 3:

And he said and the second thing that I would tell you is that everybody's always going to need electricity. He said you come to work here and unless you just royally mess up, you can probably stay for a while. And he said, well, do some things and, you know, move you around a little bit. And I said can I think about it for a while? And he said, yeah, think about it. So I went back a couple of days later and I told him. I said you know what I like that idea. I said I'm going to stay. So I did and I spent time in several different areas in the company. The last six were the most enjoyable.

Speaker 2:

What did you do in those last six years?

Speaker 3:

I was their internal auditor.

Speaker 2:

Oh, to some. I don't think that that would have been very fun to some of the people that I worked with.

Speaker 3:

It was not very fun. They didn't like me sometimes after we got done working on a little project together, but it gave me the opportunity to get a great education on the financial side of the organization as well as the operational side. I've been in several operational positions by then, but we did a lot of operational auditing and it was just a great learning experience for me. Then you ask about my perspective and how it's evolved over the years. Well, I can tell you this my perspective changed 180 degrees over the years from where I started to where I am today.

Speaker 3:

You go into an organization early on in your life and it's more about me than it is anything else to begin with. Then you stay there for a while and you develop a camaraderie, you develop relationships, you learn the culture and you say how can certain decisions be made and handed down from up high that affect me in a way that's somewhat adverse to what I do? But as you move through an organization you become more involved in the knowledge of what's going on behind the scenes, sort of that you finally figure out you don't have all the information that the people who are making these decisions have.

Speaker 3:

There's a light bulb that goes off, hopefully at some point in time and it went off with me and is what kept me going through the years with respect to being in this program number one and number two, trying to better myself personally from staying in the program. When I found out there were 900 electric cooperatives throughout the United States and I decided to leave the one that I had been at in Florida for 18 years, that was a big deal to me. It meant there's a lot of opportunity. Now that opportunity is interesting because you have to move to make it happen sometimes, or sometimes you can stay with the same cooperative basically forever and you're sort of at the mercy of what's going on above you and organization at that point in time.

Speaker 2:

Sometimes you have to take that leap of faith.

Speaker 3:

You do you really? Do you really do? And that's another interesting story on how I took that leap of faith to leave. Florida where my family, my friends, my whole world was right there, until I had been at that other cooperative for about 18 years.

Speaker 2:

Well, and I opened up your eyes to see what else was possible.

Speaker 3:

Oh, absolutely, and there's a whole big world out there that you can get into, possibly, if you so desire.

Speaker 2:

So those 18 years in Florida kind of culminated into this big move to North Carolina. That was your next stop and in your recent announcement of your retirement you mentioned a legacy of leadership and the impact it sounds like you had a lot of leaders that believed in you in those early years of your career. Can you share, now that you're at the end of your kind of in that swan song period here at Jen's on slow, can you share a specific accomplishment or initiative during your time here at Jen's on slow that you believe has made a lasting positive effect on the cooperative?

Speaker 3:

I think that there are several initiatives Crystal that we've started in the last eight years and we are currently working on that will take this organization into the future. We've got a lot of technical programs that we've been working on lately. Technology is such a great thing in some respects, and it is. It's powerful, it's it's something that's going to make our world much more efficient and effective, but it's also disruptive right now to us as well, and we'll talk about that a little bit in another question you're going to ask me. But some of the more, some of the technical things that we've done that have laid a foundation, I think, that will allow us to take this company into the future and better serve the members. We put a demand reduction program in place back in 2016. We did that over a three year time period. It was about a 300 to $350,000 investment each year and that saves us over a million dollars a year off of our whole cell power cost right now. So it's more than paid for itself in a short period of time.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely.

Speaker 3:

And it's continuing to return on it. The investment tremendous.

Speaker 2:

When the nice thing is, members don't even notice it's happening.

Speaker 3:

They do not, and it's been a big benefit to us. It's helped us in one respect not to raise our rates in over eight years. Along with some other things, we're putting a new SCADA system as a supervisory, control and data acquisition system into our grid. This will allow us to monitor the grid and more effectively operate it in the future. We put an advanced metering infrastructure system in, starting in 2017. And this system is the basis for a lot of other things that we're going to be doing in the future. One of those things is a automated distribution management system.

Speaker 3:

The information we get from the advanced metering infrastructure system is going to be used for a lot of different things.

Speaker 3:

We have more information on the way our members use energy today than we've ever had before.

Speaker 3:

It's very granular, and we have tools that we are developing in conjunction with some consultants to allow us to analyze our rate structures on behalf of our members and create more efficient rates for them in the future than we've ever had in the past. And then also we'll be tying that into our power supplier, north Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, to become more efficient in purchasing the power from them. So it's a kind of a win-win situation in that it allows us to help our members and it allows our statewide organization to help us by helping them become more efficient, more effective and more cost effective. Going down the road that new rate tool that we're developing in conjunction with this consultant, I've never seen anything as powerful as this in my 50 years in this business. It is unbelievably strong. It's powerful in what it can do for us. In a five minute timeframe, we can change our rates and see what the impact is to the company and each individual rate classification and each individual member if we want to get it down.

Speaker 2:

Can you imagine doing that 50 years ago?

Speaker 3:

No, if you started it 50 years ago, you probably would still be trying to finish it today.

Speaker 2:

You're still doing it on your calculator.

Speaker 3:

Yes, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Are you ready to take a breath yet, because that's a lot of stuff that's happened since 2016. Yes, when you became CEO Think about just right. There are five things that were innovation technology driven within the time that you were the CEO here at Jones-Anso.

Speaker 3:

And that's not even the best thing. The best thing is coming up in another question you're going to ask in a few minutes.

Speaker 2:

Well, I'm sitting on needles here. I can't wait. So throughout your time as CEO, you emphasize the importance of embracing this innovation and technology at Jones-Anso. I certainly would say you've embraced it. If not, we wouldn't have had any of those things. So, in the broader sense, how do you believe advancements and technology will shape the future of electric cooperatives and how did Jones-Anso position itself to adapt to these changes under your leadership?

Speaker 3:

So the electrical industry has operated under the same model for over 100 years. We generate electricity, we transmit it and then we distribute it to the ultimate user. It's a one way direction process. But today there are many other ways electricity is being generated and it's not by the electric companies. That's going to have to be incorporated into our model going forward. I think the last time I looked we have 395 solar installations these are residential installations on our system and it grew by over 100 last year.

Speaker 3:

So that tells us change is coming and we need to adapt to it. The electric company is really an interesting dichotomy in that we're so used to doing the same thing every day, day in and out, and doing it well Build some facilities, put a service to a home or a business, read the meter, send them a bill, make sure the power stays on. But that's about to change in a big way, because there are a lot of people that are going to be generating their own electricity and that's going to have to be integrated into our systems. Technologically, that's a big feat for a lot of reasons. One is everything that we generate, transmit and distribute is a rotary machine driven creation. When you have a windmill or a solar farm, it's not the same thing. You have to change the energy from a direct current into an alternating current and then inject it into a system that's not necessarily friendly to a different source coming into it, if that makes any sense.

Speaker 3:

Everybody has to play well together and the technology is not totally there yet. It will be. But then you have different load shapes during the day when solar ramps up its production in the middle of the day. Electricity is a very unique product. It has to be created and consumed at exactly the same moment in time and everything in the grid has to be in balance. And when you start injecting solar into the grid, then something else has to back off and that creates a little bit of a problem with respect to the operation of the grid. Then you change the load characteristics by putting solar, injecting a lot of solar.

Speaker 3:

We were just talking about this yesterday at the power supply meeting. There are cooperatives who have so much solar on their system, put there by a developer of some sort, that their load actually disappears during the day. Wow, because the solar comes on and everything that they're serving is then served by the solar for two or three hours or until the cloud passes over. Believe it or not, when the cloud passes over a solar system, it changes the production of the output of the energy.

Speaker 2:

And it has to kind of adapt to that too. So that would be an obstacle for those transmission lines and things that are feeding it.

Speaker 3:

Exactly, that's exactly right. So I think that we have positioned Jones-Ozlo in an extremely good situation right now. We are working with our statewide organization. There's an initiative called the distribution operations initiative that we are engaging with them in, and they can actually initiate a load reduction scheme in an afternoon by pushing a button in their office at Jones-Ozlo. This allows them to take advantage of a more efficient power supply system, which eventually will turn into a lower cost to all of the cooperatives in North Carolina. We're about 10% of their load and we do a lot for them. They do a lot for us, but integrating our systems in with them, and they're working on an initiative called the brighter energy future throughout the state of North Carolina, which dovetails into all of the requirements that the General Assembly has put on the electric companies in North Carolina and that the North Carolina Utilities Commission wants to have happen. So we are becoming a larger part of that as we move forward in this new energy era.

Speaker 2:

Well, some may call you a pioneer because not many people would embrace the level of change that you have. When you look at a career of 50 years, some get stuck in the past and it's hard to adapt to that change. So most certainly you have been a pioneer for technology and the cooperative world, because that's a lot going on at one time.

Speaker 3:

That is a lot going on at one time, but the thing that you have to remember is that we're doing this for our members. We're doing this to become more valuable to them in the future than we have been in the past and when we look at that every day, if we become a little bit better versus where we were yesterday, we can build even more value for the 83,000 members that we have out there in our service territory.

Speaker 2:

So your journey at Jones-Zonzo spans 23 years or so.

Speaker 3:

Yes.

Speaker 2:

So can you share now? This technology could be challenging at times, but there are other times that probably have been a challenge as a CEO to face with our members, with our internal community. When do you think we've demonstrated some resilience at times through the past 23 years?

Speaker 3:

I would say we've demonstrated some resilience many times over, and a lot of it. The members don't even know that we've done Resiliency when it comes to the operational level. Hurricane, hurricane Florence. We knew this was going to be a bad hurricane. We were holding meetings right here in this building prior to it showing up, making sure that we were ready to handle whatever we could as best we could. We had a lot of extra people coming in here. We did not have Facebook in place at that time. I know Natalie's looking at me like you got to be kidding me.

Speaker 2:

Yes, that was 2018. Yeah, that was very before I started.

Speaker 3:

Yeah and we had a Facebook place that I had been told about, and it was like when people Look for you, if you aren't there, you get a Facebook place created. Yes, well, we had claimed the rights of that Facebook place.

Speaker 2:

We had a place that just said 259 Western Boulevard.

Speaker 3:

Yes, and when this hurricane started heading towards us and we saw how powerful it was and it was a slow-moving storm we knew that we were going to lose communications, the regular kind of communications. So we had to do something and in that meeting we said, look, we need to stand this Facebook page up. And we did, and it turned out to be the best move that we made as far as communications are concerned During this storm.

Speaker 3:

It was the way to communicate for a lot of our members, because cellular towers were down. The traffic on cellular towers that were up was so congested you couldn't make calls. We couldn't call each other internally, our systems were down and Facebook became the platform that we used for communicating what was going on to our members and communicating within the organization. It turned out to be a lifesaver. I mean that that hurricane did more damage and lasting damage and anything I've seen in a long time. Our Our headquarters building flooded on the bottom floor. We were displaced from that Building for over a year and we still continued to operate Just like nothing had happened, basically.

Speaker 2:

MSR's move to mobile units. They could be here to answer calls and visit with clients and members. It was a those turbulent time, I would imagine it really was it.

Speaker 3:

It took us a year to get that building back in shape and then Working remotely became kind of the standard. We don't have nearly as many people inside the building today from the member service function as we used to. There's a lot of them that still work remote. So out of some of the bad stuff that happened to us, some good stuff came about there was more innovation there. Yes, absolutely. Sometimes in electric companies, though, it has to be forced on you because we just like doing the same thing the same way a lot.

Speaker 2:

If it's working. I guess you know.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, but some of the things that we've done also that people don't really know about, and we put it out there for them. But and we do have a lot of people that read their newsletter. Yes, you know that. Steve tells us that quite regularly.

Speaker 2:

They do and they look for lots of different articles and the recipe recipe.

Speaker 3:

Yes absolutely yeah. One of the things that we've done over the last several years is through our power supply contracts, our Supplier of power from North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation. They got hit when Duke had the issue with the coal ash at Dan River Because we had two contracts that allowed Duke to Share some of those costs with North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation. That gets down, passed down to us. So, sitting in the board meetings at NCE emcee and and learning about what was going to happen to our Power supplier and ultimately us and all the other cooperatives in North Carolina, we finally got to the meat of the situation and it was hey, you guys, we're gonna get hit with two hundred million dollars worth of coal ash issue cost and those costs will show up in your power bills.

Speaker 3:

We're 10% of NCE emcee's load, so Pretty easy to figure out 20 million dollars is 10% of 200 million. We have done several things over the last several years to mitigate Passing that cost along to our members. We have absorbed every bit of it over the last five or six years Without changing our rates and we have some of the lowest rates in the state of North Carolina, as far as we can determine. We've given money back by way of capital credits, by way of bill credits, when we have a good year, probably to the tune of plus 35 million dollars over the last several years, and I think those are some of the greatest Accomplishments that we've achieved in the last few years with respect to things that are outside the normal scope of what we do.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, those are definitely outside of just day-to-day operations for sure. So we talked about change, innovation. Now we're moving forward into retirement and you're gonna have some transition there, I'm sure. Other than hitting the golf course, you've already got that one. You do that on the weekends. Now what aspects of your leadership style and approach do you hope will continue here to influence Jones-Onslow in the future and its success?

Speaker 3:

That's a that's a very interesting question. This, this whole transitioning thing, it's it's a very interesting process. This is the second time I've been through it. The first time I was the recipient of it and now I'm the one that's leaving the organization. We've put a lot of things in place that I think are going to allow us to move forward. Whether my imprint stays on them or not is not important at all. It's whether or not they get continued and that they come to fruition.

Speaker 3:

We started with a strategic plan back in 2016, along with the board, to give the company direction, to go in Versus everybody in the different areas of the company, just kind of doing their own thing. We've implemented a lot of internal programs and it's about the platforms, putting the platforms in place that will allow these things to, if they're Worthy, go through and and and be a part of the culture of an operation of the organization. Or, if they're not necessarily needed and you know, cut them. But we've got some really good things that we've laid a foundation for in the last several years. We've implemented programs like diversity, equity and inclusion, where it's a work in progress. We've created a vision emc program, which is extremely cool.

Speaker 2:

I mean cooperatives have this and I think we're the only one in the state that has something like that. Maybe one other at Blue Ridge might be the only one.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah, right, but that's a leadership program designed to let our employees see a bigger picture of what we do, and they also get involved in a community project, which is really cool.

Speaker 1:

That's, you know, part of our fabric here at this organization community and you've been through I have.

Speaker 2:

I've had the pleasure and it was a great experience.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and it lets us For lack of a better way to describe it watch the individuals going through the program to see is there something that they can aspire to after they've gained the knowledge that we've put them through in this particular program.

Speaker 3:

So it's a multifaceted program.

Speaker 3:

I think probably the most important thing that I would like to be remembered for, or if remembered, and is we have really worked on developing our senior management staff at this organization and empowering them to do the things that they need to do to make this organization run as smoothly as it possibly can and a more, from their perspective, empowered position.

Speaker 3:

That's not been the case that a lot of cooperatives over the years it's been a One direction, you know do this because I said so. I don't mean that critically, but it's just the way this entire program has evolved over the years and by working with everyone and going through exercises of hey, let's figure out what my personality is and how does that interact with other people, and then understanding that there are many different disciplines inside of a cooperative, as there are any electric company. You've got engineering, you've got operations, you've got human resources, finance and accounting, communications, and everyone plays a very important role in trying to get us out of any silos that we might have been in to communicate better among ourselves, to communicate better among our employees.

Speaker 3:

You know we put a company wide communication program in place. Jossel, you guys put that in place for us and I think that's had a big impact. We want everyone in this organization to know everything that they can about what's going on, and that hasn't always been the case in electric cooperative worlds and other business worlds too. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

I will say as kind of not so much an outsider but I'm not in your office every day but I can tell you that your leadership style to many, including myself, is that you try to bring in a collective approach. You bring in folks from all different aspects and you certainly ask how it went, which I appreciate. I mean on a daily basis. If you see Jeff somewhere, he'll make sure to say what'd you think about this? Not many people take the time to do that, so it definitely speaks to your leadership style as bringing in a community and as we move into community you've kind of touched on that that part of what we do here at Jones-Onslow is that we strive for community engagement and that's honestly one of our founding principles is that we want to have a care or concern for the community. So how has Jones-Onslow actively participated in community initiatives and do you envision the cooperatives to continue doing that in the future?

Speaker 3:

To answer the second part of that question first.

Speaker 2:

absolutely yeah why would we stop?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that's why we're here. I mean, this whole program started in the late 1930s because some farmers couldn't get electricity from an investor in utility, and the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America created this program and it's a cookie cutter model that has morphed into 900 electric companies throughout the United States of America. It's the most I always describe it. When somebody asked me what I do and I said I worked for an electric cooperative, they said what is that?

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm.

Speaker 3:

I said well, it's the most successful government program that people in the United States of America have never heard of.

Speaker 3:

And they're like well tell me more and just go through the history of how we came into being and when you think about the United States government under the Department of Agriculture being your banker, they're being your engineering firm, being your potential, your operations firm. But they would guide you into how to create an electric company and then how to run the electric company and they financed your electric company. Now they had some goofy rules they had to go under.

Speaker 2:

All things at the start, do you?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, the government. But they wanted to make sure that they got their money back and to my knowledge there have only been a couple of cooperatives in the United States of America since the late 1930s that have failed and they were taken over and someone else operated them. So the government got all of their money back. But it's just been a great program. But, as you know, it's based on us being community based, and that, to me, is where the magic in these organizations is. I mean, we have programs that we are able to do that. Just amaze me what we accomplish. We're not even an electric company, we're a community company that just happens to sell electricity.

Speaker 3:

We're part of the fabric of the communities that we serve. We really are. We have things internally to us like bright ideas. Do you guys know how that program started? You haven't heard of this, have you?

Speaker 2:

I do, but Natalie may not. But you share.

Speaker 1:

You haven't.

Speaker 3:

Okay, yeah, that beginning of this program 27 or 28 years ago was just an accident, and it has morphed into teachers throughout the state of North Carolina receiving $12 million in grants over the years. Jones-onslow has given out $1.5 million in grants over the years, getting ready to give out more.

Speaker 3:

Getting ready to give out more and we have youth programs. There's a manager in North Carolina, tri-county Electric, mike Davis, who was a Jones-Onslow youth tour person. Oh yeah, paula gave me a picture before she retired of Mike in front of a Greyhound bus getting ready to either go to Washington DC or coming back from having been in Washington DC. And he I gave him the picture a couple of months ago and he said yeah, I remember that. He said, you know, going on that youth tour program, that's why I became an employee of a cooperative and he's been running that cooperative for 30 or 40 years. Wow, it's just, you know, it gets in your blood.

Speaker 3:

Community programs specific to the individual communities we serve, that we support throughout the years. Economic development is another good thing that we get involved in. I had the opportunity to be on the Jacksonville-Onslow Economic Development Board and I just finished two years as the chairman of that board. I'm the immediate past, but I'm also the chairman of the Economic Development Partnership, which is really cool. I don't want to get into that one right now, but it is going to allow more economic development to take place and this county without being so much publicly funded. We'll have some private funding coming around because of some things that we're working on Our co-op kids programs. Those are pretty cool, getting kids involved in what we're doing. These things, along with our cooperative principles, will be a part of our service to our communities, as long as this cooperative exists.

Speaker 2:

So we've talked about the community and what a big part that has on Jones-Onslow and in your career. But now when we look back at your career, everybody has an individual or a person that kind of stands out to them and made some sort of impact, good or bad, on your time. Who might those folks be for you and how did it impact your time?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, there are a few, Crystal, and probably they started shaping my style by me watching them and seeing what things they did well and what things that they didn't do well. The very first one was the gentleman that I referred to earlier, Billy Brown, the manager of Witlick-Kuji River Electric in Florida for 50 years. He had a management style that, when you watched him, he was dedicated to the employees through helping get good wages and salaries and benefits. A lot of times cooperatives were very low on the totem pole back in the 70s and 80s with respect to businesses around them. They didn't pay as well, but Billy did a lot for the employees and I learned that leveraging your position can be better than just helping one individual and he brought a lot of good stuff to that organization and watching him do that I learned a lot from him.

Speaker 3:

Then, the last six years I was at that company, there was a gentleman he's still there as a matter of fact. His name is Ronnie Dease. He came from outside of our industry. He was an accountant. He worked for Jim Walters Homes and he understood numbers and finance and accounting, but he didn't have a clue what we did and he came to our organization and he and I hit it off very well. We actually had a little deal. He would teach me the finance and accounting stuff outside the work order system, which the work order system was 90% of the finance and accounting inside of a cooperative organization. The way you borrowed money was based on the work order accounting system and I knew that. But he taught me some of the finer points and then in return I educated him as to what we do in the field and how that all worked.

Speaker 2:

A good give and take relationship. It really was.

Speaker 3:

It really was, and he's still there to this day. Then there were some that one of them will remain nameless here in North Carolina that I worked for not here at Jones-Onslow, but I learned a lot of what not to do by watching this particular manager and it still helps me in making decisions to this day of what to do, what not to do by seeing all of these different people. And, of course, my predecessor, ron McLean. He was a good example to me as well. I learned a lot from him before he retired and he had brought this organization to a very good point when he left. And then we just kind of didn't skip a beat, I don't think, and kept going forward and technology started changing and getting more important in our world. And that's when I sat down and looked at this whole thing and said, look, we've got to make some changes, we've got to advance, we've got to inject some more technology into this organization, and he was a very good mentor in a lot of respects.

Speaker 2:

Well, as you spoke of Ron when you came to be the CEO at Jones-Onslow, I'm sure Ron gave you plenty of advice before you came, and now it's your turn to give some advice to our incoming CEO, Gary Ray. What might that be?

Speaker 3:

So you know Gary's actually worked here before.

Speaker 2:

Our members may not know that, so that's important to note.

Speaker 3:

Yes, he was here. He left about 15 years ago. He went to another cooperative speaking of the opportunities in our world Alomar EMC, up in the northeastern part of our state, and he joined them as an engineer and within a couple of years he was promoted to the CEO position. So he's been running that cooperative for I think 12 years now. He's a manager. With the way we operated before he left, things have changed a little bit and we to me is like a professional quarterback, you know. You see these guys go from one team to the next.

Speaker 3:

I mean a lot of them have moved in the last couple of years. They know how to play football, they know how to pass, they know how to hand off the ball. They know all of this. But when you move to a new team you've got to learn their system.

Speaker 2:

I was just going to say it's all about the system.

Speaker 3:

They're all different and Gary's like a quarterback coming to a different team right now, I think I mean he knows the fundamentals of running a cooperative and we've got more systems in place than where he is now. So he's going to have to learn the systems and he knows a lot of the people because they were here when he was here before he left. But we've added a lot of people. We've got a lot of really neat people that we brought into the organization. We've added 32 people in the last eight years to this organization in different positions.

Speaker 2:

It's a lot of new people, new jobs too.

Speaker 3:

We've increased the apprentice program, the number of people in there, and we've added a lot of technology positions that we didn't have. So he's just going to have to get familiar with what's going on on the inside of the organization and use the fundamentals that he already has in place. He's already integrated into the statewide system, so he understands that that's a big. That's a good thing for him, because he's not going to have to learn all of that while he's trying to run this system and learn what's going on down here.

Speaker 3:

So I think, once he feels comfortable in the role here, he then needs to become a little more involved in the community, and I feel confident that he will do that. But I would say for the first 12, 18 months he'll want to focus internally to begin with and then start getting into the other things that are part of the nature of what we do for our communities and our members.

Speaker 2:

I know well we have a big internal community in itself, so yes, we do.

Speaker 3:

You know, I don't even know I can't associate the names with all of the faces of the employees anymore, and I've been here while they've been at it, but there are just so many of them, and so many new ones, that it's a little more difficult today than it has been in the past.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you think 32 new faces on top of anybody else. That's coming in too All right. Well, now we're going to bring this interview on home with Jeff. As we have already covered, his next step is retirement, and do you have any personal aspirations or goals that you might have for this next phase of your life and how do you foresee staying connected with Jones-Onslow and also the values that has taught you through the years?

Speaker 3:

This is going to be an interesting answer to your question. First of all, personal aspirations. The retirement is going to be a process. My wife has already been asking me well, what are you going to do? You're going to be around here all day. How am I going to handle this?

Speaker 2:

She'll keep you busy.

Speaker 3:

Well, between what she wants me to do and what I want to do. Yes, she'll probably keep me more busy. She's quite busy herself. She's concerned about us being home together. I said, look, this is going to be a process. I've been working for 50 years. I don't know exactly what to expect, but I know there's going to be some time that we're going to have to figure things out as we go along. I'm just looking forward to not being controlled by a calendar. To be honest with you, you got to go to Raleigh today, you got to go to Atlanta then and you're going to Indianapolis this week, when you're young.

Speaker 2:

those sound really fun and appealing, though You're the world traveler. But 50 years later it might feel a little daunting, I would assume.

Speaker 3:

Indianapolis in February is not the place I want to be.

Speaker 2:

Not picturesque.

Speaker 3:

No, that's exactly right To start out with. Just maybe play a little more golf. We just built a new home on the inter-coastal waterway in Swansborough, so I bought a boat three years ago. I want to get into some fishing and we do want to travel some, but you know, personal travel, not business travel. We've got a couple of trips scheduled for next year. We're going to Singapore for the International Rotary Convention and I want to go to Scotland. I've got a golfing trip, of all things. Next July I need to get down to Florida to see my mom and dad. They're getting on up there at age. I'm trying to get down there as much as I can, but I think that will, you know, will be more.

Speaker 2:

We'll change a little bit. Now You'll have the opportunity to do that.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, exactly, I'll still stay in and connected with some of the things that I've been involved with in our community. I'm in the process of helping to stand up a first tee organization in. Oslo County. It's an organization that uses golf as a medium to teach children core values of how to live their lives, and we've got that going on. Hopefully they won't kick me off the community college board of trustees anytime soon.

Speaker 2:

I think you still got a golden ticket there.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, chamber of Commerce, military Affairs, the Jacksonville, oslo Economic Development. I'm staying involved with them as well for a while.

Speaker 2:

Going back to your roots. You're going to be the treasurer, I hear.

Speaker 3:

Yes, I was conned into that recently. That's a whole other discussion. Yeah, that's going to be fun.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, help it if you're good at it.

Speaker 3:

Or somebody else doesn't want to do it anymore I can't name any names but just staying involved in those things and then helping April with some of the stuff she's doing. She's got a lot going on with Rotary. She's the chairman of the board of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, which is a very interesting organization.

Speaker 3:

They do a lot of good work and she's helping them get things more organized and going forward. They've got a lot of really cool stuff going on, just whatever she needs there. To answer your question about staying connected to the cooperative world and its values, I really don't plan to stay connected to the cooperative world. I see a lot of people who retire from this world and then show up at meetings and different places and you know they turn into consultants and it's like they just can't give it up and it's amazing how many of them are doing that these days.

Speaker 3:

And listen, I have loved what I've done over the years. Yeah, there's been some not good times, but overall, being afforded the opportunity to serve people the way we do by being a cooperative and personally being involved in that, I don't know of a better mission that you could have in your life and I was fortunate. As we discussed earlier, I kind of fell into it in a way, but it's been a. It's really been a great journey and I tell people all the time there's life before Jones-Ozlo, there's life at Jones-Ozlo and there's life after Jones-Ozlo. So I'm going to take advantage of the life after Jones-Ozlo because there are plenty of competent people in this organization that are going to make this place even better in the future than it has been in the past, and that's their job, not mine.

Speaker 3:

I'm done, I've had it. 50 years is enough. I'm constantly amazed that I was offered the opportunity to become a CEO of one of these organizations. It's just something that I appreciate and will never get over. I don't think I'll think about it for a while, but then there are just too many other things that I want to do and see now that I've kind of not gotten free, but I am not you have the time to do it, yeah exactly.

Speaker 3:

Um, it's kind of contra to the grain of a lot of people that do leave these organizations, though they do want to stay connected. I will miss it. I'll miss the people I mean. I hopefully will still see a lot of people.

Speaker 2:

I'm sure you'll still get an invite or two.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah but as far as the work is concerned, you know everybody needs to stop that at some point in time. Um, I think it's allowed me to learn some principles that I've ingrained in what I do and for that I'm thankful. I'll always live by those principles, and of all the principles that I did try and incorporate into the way I operated and tried to lead and manage and supervise and just be a good employee. I think it can all be summed up in a pretty simple statement and it's just like, wherever you are, whatever you're doing, just leave that place or that thing in a little better position than it was when you found it.

Speaker 2:

Well, I think you've done that here and on behalf of all of us at Jones-Onslow. We are so thankful that you were our fearless leader for so many years and we wish you nothing but the best. We will miss your random popovers of saying hello and checking in on us and some sort of funny story. We'll miss the thank you notes that you randomly send at different times and, most importantly, we'll just miss your presence here at Jones-Onslow and we wish you all the best on all of your world travels, lots of shots on the golf course and visits to many community events that we will possibly see you at, and that's a wrap.

Speaker 1:

Well, folks, that'll do it for this episode of flipping the switch until next time. If you don't currently follow us on facebook, instagram or any of our other social media channels, consider doing so. It's the best way to keep informed about what's going on with your cooperative. Thanks again.

CEO Jeff Clark's Retirement and Reflections
Perspective Evolution and Lasting Impact
Technology Advancements and Future Electric Cooperatives
Jones-Onslow's Commitment to Community Engagement
Transition and Retirement Plans
Retirement and Future Plans
Farewell and Wishing You the Best