Flippin' the Switch

S5 E1: A Current of Change with New CEO Gary Ray

January 26, 2024 Jones-Onslow EMC Season 5 Episode 1
S5 E1: A Current of Change with New CEO Gary Ray
Flippin' the Switch
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Flippin' the Switch
S5 E1: A Current of Change with New CEO Gary Ray
Jan 26, 2024 Season 5 Episode 1
Jones-Onslow EMC

Join us on a heartening journey with Gary Ray, the new CEO of Jones-Onslow, whose story is as electric as the industry he's passionate about. Born and bred in the soils of Red Springs, North Carolina, Gary's ascent from a curious NC State University graduate to an innovative leader at our beloved cooperative is nothing short of inspiring. Gary reflects on the warm embrace of the cooperative values that beckoned him back home after his time at Albemarle EMC. His genuine zeal for fostering community and spearheading a future charged with possibility is sure to resonate with anyone who believes in the power of connections and change. You don't want to miss this special episode of Flippin' the Switch!

Run Time: 22 minutes

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join us on a heartening journey with Gary Ray, the new CEO of Jones-Onslow, whose story is as electric as the industry he's passionate about. Born and bred in the soils of Red Springs, North Carolina, Gary's ascent from a curious NC State University graduate to an innovative leader at our beloved cooperative is nothing short of inspiring. Gary reflects on the warm embrace of the cooperative values that beckoned him back home after his time at Albemarle EMC. His genuine zeal for fostering community and spearheading a future charged with possibility is sure to resonate with anyone who believes in the power of connections and change. You don't want to miss this special episode of Flippin' the Switch!

Run Time: 22 minutes

Speaker 1:

Welcome listeners to the very first episode of Season 5 of Flip in the Switch. We are gearing up for quite the 2024 and to start this year off with a bang, we have our new CEO, mr Gary Ray, on the show. We'll be hearing from Gary, through his interview with Crystal Phillips, about how he got into the cooperative world, how he's returning back home to Jones-Onslow and all of the amazing plans he has for our future. We hope this episode will allow our members to get to know Gary a little bit better and get them excited for what's to come. And with that, let's start flipping the switch.

Speaker 2:

Well, we are here, and it is January 2024. So this is the first podcast of the year, so welcome to Flip in the Switch of 2024. In this edition of our podcast, we have the honor to interview our new CEO, gary Ray. Now I sent him a list of questions and we're going to try to stick to those, but we'll see how it goes today For our listeners that have not noticed in our spotlight or through our various emails, yes, indeed, we do have a new face of Jones-Onslow and he's here with us today. So some of us here at the office have obviously gotten to know you a little bit over the time that you've been here since the end of October, but our wonderful members have not had that opportunity yet. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and kind of what brought you here to Jones-Onslow?

Speaker 3:

Thank you, crystal. Yes, I was here many years ago. I was born in Red Springs, north Carolina, little town just south of Fayetteville, Went to school NC State University and got my degree in electrical engineering and was lucky enough, blessed enough, to get my first job here many years ago at Jones-Onslow as an electrical engineer, moved up to change some and in 2008 I was VP of engineering and decided I needed a change, a challenge, so I took a position at Albuomo emcee. That is a small northeastern North Carolina cooperative with many, a lot less members than what we have here, but a nice co-op, and I was the manager of engineering there and for 15 years. I have a family. I've got a wife, gloria. I've got two sons, shay and Taylor. They're both grown and we just moved back to the area in October of this year. It was a great opportunity and I felt like that's what I needed to do. I was led here, but I love the co-op. I've been here many years and a lot of the great people are still here from when I was here before.

Speaker 2:

That's for sure. It's kind of nice to go out, like whenever we take you to take pictures and all of those fun things which we know you love.

Speaker 3:

Oh, I love the pictures.

Speaker 2:

To see the folks that you used to work with 15 years ago. There's still that camaraderie that's still here, which is great. So back when you first graduated from NC State and you came here, what kind of got you into the co-op world?

Speaker 3:

Well, red Springs luckily has an electric co-op. The Lumbie River has now moved to Pembroke, north Carolina. But I was well familiar with the co-ops. They were actually a sponsor of my first Little League baseball team. Oh really, yeah, they were green and yellow. That was the colors back at the co-ops back in the day. But anyway, I knew of the co-op and when I graduated from state I specialized in power so I know I wanted to be in the power business. Luckily I knew folks from Red Springs that worked at the co-op and asked them about that co-op and what they did is got my resume to the North Carolina electric co-ops in.

Speaker 3:

Raleigh and they spread it around to all the co-ops in the state. And next thing I know I'm getting. I think it was a letter back in those days. It wasn't phone calls and text and stuff, it was an actual letter from Alvin Morton. Alvin C Morton was the CEO of Jones-Ise Low back in those days and he wanted to talk to me. So we set up an interview. We came, visited the facilities, went out into the field and saw a substation, met their engineering group and was offered a job.

Speaker 2:

That's awesome. Well, that truly shows you like that network within. You know, we always talk about co-ops helping other co-ops, and that certainly was a help for you. You had that knowledge of the cooperative world and it kind of came full circle for you to come and be here years later.

Speaker 3:

I was blessed, but I really didn't understand what the co-op world was and how it's been just different from Back then. The CPNLs are the Duke Energy.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah.

Speaker 3:

And the municipals. But of course now I do, but then I didn't. When you get out of school, we basically just want a job.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely, and I just got a paycheck.

Speaker 3:

And I just got lucky enough to land in the co-op world and I've been here ever since. That's awesome.

Speaker 2:

Who plans on leaving? Well, look, we don't want you to go anywhere, gary. So when you were looking, you know into coming over here. What intrigued you about coming back to Jones-Onslow?

Speaker 3:

Yeah Well, it's always in your heart your first job, kind of like your first love, I guess. Um, I love the place and I always thought about it. Didn't know if the CEO job would ever open up to someone from outside. I'm kind of inside outside, but I didn't work here so I was hoping and then when I heard that Jeff Clark was retiring, I got some some feedback from folks and started thinking about it. But really it's a great place to live. I lived here for many years. My wife is from the area, she's from Richlands. Um, she has family here and those routes are deep.

Speaker 2:

Oh, yeah, richlands yeah.

Speaker 3:

They're deep and she's got a family here and it's um. I would never have moved anywhere without her, you know, being on board, but I knew she would love coming back. She's got a lot of friends here and I've got friends here, so it was just natural, so like coming back home, I guess it was, it's um, heard that word many times from many folks. I've heard it from my friends, from my colleagues here at work, from new folks like you, um, and it is, it is home.

Speaker 2:

Well, I know that, like I can speak for Sterling, every time he sees you he's got a joke, so you know you're just like family to him for sure. Yeah, that's awesome. So now, during your time of Albemarle, which you kind of mentioned it was a little bit smaller, I know, and that area is pretty rural, I would say and now you experienced some changes during your time there and innovations. How do you think that kind of prepared you to leap into Jones-Onslow?

Speaker 3:

Yes, albemarle's main industry is farming and they've got a lot of water, so a lot of fishing and that type of thing. Um, but while I was there as as a general manager for for 12 years, we did grow our technology and how we reached out to members. Um, it's a lot different now than it was when I you know 12 years ago and come in here. It's a lot the same, um, it's some faster paced um, a lot more moving parts, but still the the general idea, the core, you know, to better serve our members, is at both places, and technology is a big piece of it, and that that's something I had to get acclimated to. Um, the member piece, um, how we talked to our members, how we communicate, how we connect with them, um, it's a ever changing.

Speaker 2:

It is. You know that's. They say it takes seven times to get a message to a person and you know, and I feel like we are offering more than seven, so we hope that our members feel like they're communicated with for sure. Now, those things prepared you to come to Jones-Onslow and you know we talked about it was a little bit smaller, but now that you're here, like what do you feel? Like those different? You're going to have to change a few strategies and things to better serve to ensure that we have effective communication with our members and that they know what's going on here. Like are there things that you think can foster, like more collaboration with a larger membership?

Speaker 3:

Yes, with a larger membership it is tougher. It's tougher. They're a little bit more tight-knit at Albemarle. But, um, I understand the membership. I knew that from the years I lived here A lot of military, a lot of transient, a lot of members that we'd love to stay, don't stay, they're only with us for a few years.

Speaker 3:

So whatever messaging we get to our members, sometimes it goes away and you get another replacement.

Speaker 3:

But we do have a good core of members who stick with us for many, many years in a lot of our areas and a lot of our communities. But communications on now is different and trying to connect with our younger folks is a different animal than trying to connect with folks that have been on our system for many, many years. Um, I can tell you an example at Albemarle we still use magazine that could Carolina country, and here we don't. Here we use more digital platforms that they use there. But it's basically what works for your cooperative, what works for your members, and every cooperative is different, even though we've got a lot of similarities. All co-ops are different and I've experienced that big time. You know, going from one co-op to another, it's hard to see that until you do go to another cooperative, but you also see there's way more similarities than there are differences. And again, our main goal and all of it is how to connect with our members better, serve them better, give them what they need.

Speaker 2:

And I would say, you know for us to be similar and the differences all together, what make us so special. Oh yeah, now one of the things that our co-op and I think all co-ops, at least 26 in the state of North Carolina top priority is our community. How do you think that we can build upon like bringing the community all in encompassing to Jen Zanzlo, and so they know that we're in there with them, we're their neighbors, their friends.

Speaker 3:

Well, one of the Big differences and one of our main strengths in a cooperative is that we are here. We live in the communities that we serve. That's not the same with an investor on utility. This is so large. They serve folks all over the state and their, their employees may live anywhere. Our employees live right here in the communities that we serve and Really, a CEO, I'm gonna rely on our employees to be that connection to our members out in the communities.

Speaker 3:

We do a lot as a company. We've got a lot of programs where we touch the community in different ways, some of it monetarily. Some of us I'm volunteering during company hours, but really one of the main Drivers and connection points with our communities is the off-off hours. Our employees are volunteer you know coaches and volunteer and they're into churches and they're into communities on their off-time and they're promoting this co-op and they only do that because of how they're treated here at work. Absolutely, that's one of my main main jobs is to make sure that our employees are treated fairly and like working here and that's gonna zoo down into the communities and let the communities know that the company's here for them. That's what we're here for. We're here for our members. Our members live in the communities, so we want to better our members lives. We do that through delivering our electricity, but we can also better the lives by better into communities absolutely.

Speaker 2:

I think you know two things from that comment Jones-on-Slow. For all the years I've ever been in Jacksonville, north Carolina which is a long time, you will hear this is the best place to work in on slow County and Proof is in the pudding that people have been here for over 50 years and still don't have any intentions of leaving Jones-on-Slow, which is a good thing. And two, if you pull up in a Jones-on-Slow truck, they know you're there to help and that speaks volumes to the place in which that we are happily Working at now. As a community-minded cooperative, we're always looking at ways to leverage technology and innovations to serve our members better. Can you share some innovations that stand out that we're currently doing and maybe something that might be on the pulse that you Want to see in the future?

Speaker 3:

Yes, as I mentioned before, technology is such a broad topic and it's what we use. It's a tool, but it's really it's only gonna be a tool and enhance our core values. Our core values will always be affordability, reliability and safety. Everything and every piece of technology that we use just builds upon that. We've got all kind of technological Advances member portals, one where the members can go in and do a lot of their business online and COVID taught us that we do need do need to be remote in some ways. You don't need folks coming into office, so we do a lot of remote business. I can only do that through technology.

Speaker 3:

Right Outage maps. That's a great piece of technology for employees and our members to tell you visually where we have outages when we do have them. We don't like to have them, but we like our members to know where they are so they know they're not alone. A lot of folks think, well, you know, they don't know exactly what's off. But that outage map is just another piece of technology. We've got so many going on, but again, they're all laid onto. They're just a layer on top of our core values of affordability, reliability and safety. If a piece of technology or anything here doesn't enhance that. I'm going to look at it really closely, so you really need it.

Speaker 2:

Oh, I don't blame you at all. That's the way it should be. Now we've talked about the future a bit. What are your key priorities and challenges for the electric industry? Do you see some things that are going to be some hurdles as we move through the next five, ten years?

Speaker 3:

I feel like.

Speaker 2:

I'm in a job interview, by the way, that's all right.

Speaker 3:

You're not. No, we've got many. One of the biggest ones right now is something we haven't faced in our industry, maybe ever is capacity Just peak loads. Loads are picking up. There's more and more meters and more and more electrical things on the systems EVs for one, electrical vehicles, the charging that's adding load. That's a good thing for utility. We want to sell kilowatt hours. We want to give that to our members. That's growing.

Speaker 3:

But generation in our industry is decreasing due to emissions carbon emissions. Trying to lower carbon emissions, many coal generation plants have been closed with no replacement. Gas is even being looked at really close. Natural gas is one of the fuels that is used to generate electricity. It's being replaced by great things, renewables such as solar and wind and battery storage. But it's not apples to apples, it's not the same. It's true, we've experienced that and really where it's hitting us now is in the winter. The co-ops in North Carolina are now winter peaking entity and capacity in the wintertime, because of all the heating load, is just tough. Right now, with this cold coming up, we're a bit concerned, but we've been assured there is enough capacity. That's one of the big things in the industry that we haven't really had to look at, it's mainly due to the shift in generation from a more sustainable on-demand type generation like coal, versus something that may not be there. Solar is great when the sun's shining, but not so great in the middle of the cold morning, when the sun hasn't even come up yet.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely.

Speaker 3:

It's shifted to a different type of generation and I don't know that our industry has called up with it, so to speak. But it's one thing that it does concern me in the future. But I'm sure a lot of smart people out there are going to figure out ways to integrate all the different technologies and make sure that our members have that reliability we talked about before.

Speaker 2:

For sure. I think we look forward. We look at North Carolina co-ops page quite often to see all of their brighter future initiatives, which includes all of those renewables and things like that. But it also helps us to maybe as an internal organization, to share that information with the members. So we've kind of built different avenues for them to be aware of that. So we encourage people to start educating themselves so when questions arise, you might even know the answers before calling us. Go to the website. Now, I know these questions came fast and you answered all of them Great. Now what are some things that you might be looking forward to in the next year or so?

Speaker 3:

In the next year. I'm really looking forward to meeting and learning more about our employees and more about our younger employees, because they think differently than the older generation. I want to see what makes them tick, what's going to motivate them to do a better job and stay with us, because a younger generation seems to want more and more and wants to change. We want to stay here, we want to change here and not at other places. And then, down the road, say maybe three or so years, I hope I've got time to learn more about our system and our company and how to adjust. Thank you, as far as it's growing, it's growing in meters and in members, but I want to see it grow in how we better touch and better connect with our members. And then in five years I'd love to see again.

Speaker 3:

First couple of years, you know, in first months I've learned a lot about our employees and I'll continue to learn.

Speaker 3:

But in five years I really want to look back and see how much they've grown, see how much they've learned about our industry and how much they've bought into our ideals, our core values, and hopefully they can tell me, you know, how much they understand on what they didn't know five years ago, and my main goal as CEO, or one of my main goals, is to improve the co-op and improve, and when I say improve the co-op, improve how it touches our members, and that only through a great board of directors, a great group of employees and a great membership, you know, can we get to where we want to go.

Speaker 3:

And so you know I won't. If you say, you know, if people ask you know, what do you want to leave as a legacy or how do you want to be remembered? That's what I want to leave as a legacy here at Jones-Onslow. I want to leave it better than what it is now. I firmly believe we're a great co-op, outstanding co-op, but we can't improve and I can't exactly figure, you know, or tell you what places we can improve or where we can actually get the most improvement. I've got to learn and that's what time, how many times going to do that?

Speaker 2:

I think that's great. We all. I mean, like you said, we are a wonderful place, but we could all be a little bit better. For sure, now all of us have gotten to meet you and we're still getting to know you, but our members can meet you at our annual meeting. So we encourage our members to come out on March, the 22nd, and you can have the chance to talk to Gary Ray maybe not, you know have a list of 10 questions to ask him. I don't know, some people might don't know, but we really encourage you to take a moment, come out to the River of Life Church, get to know Gary, get to know more about your co-op and just have a great time and we hope to see you there. And thank you, gary, so much for jumping in the podcast room with us today.

Speaker 3:

You're very welcome, If I would. I'd like to say one thing to the membership please take the opportunity to come to the annual meeting and learn more about your co-op, and if you record this or you listen to it, you'll hear us say many, many times your co-op, it is your co-op. An annual meeting is your meeting. It's the annual meeting of members. It's not for the employees or the board of directors, it's for you, and it's really hard to get members together. We've got so many. But please come out. I'd love to meet you, Say hey, love to see a face, and I hope you understand that this co-operative me, Crystal, all of us are in it to serve you, to make your life better, to give you electricity, which you need, and make you and your communities better.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely so. Remember March the 22nd at River of Life, and you can go to jonesoncelocom, joemccom to find out more information. Thanks, gary.

Speaker 3:

Thank you.

Speaker 5:

Do you have a family member that is deployed or an elderly parent that needs help staying on track with their bills? Sign up for third-party notifications. You can receive an email or text with alerts like two-day due date reminders, cutoff notifications, outage alerts and more. Simply, log into your account on J-O-E-M-C's online portal and select notifications from the menu. Add your email address and anyone else you would like to receive updates, or you can call us to help you set it up.

Speaker 1:

Hey there, listeners. Natalie here to tell you what's happening here at Jones-Onslow this month. If you couldn't already tell, we are so excited for this year's annual meeting of members. You heard Gary and Crystal talk about all of the fun we will have at River of Life Church, so here's another reminder to mark your calendars for March 22nd. You won't want to miss it.

Speaker 1:

Do you ever wonder how our hard-working linemen restore power to your area during an outage? With winter weather upon us, jones-onslow wants to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how we turn the lights back on in your home. Head to our website and read our blog post on Power Restoration. Today, our energy efficiency tip of the month reminds you to ensure your home is well-sealed, to reduce the need for excessive heating, seal air leaks around your home and add insulation when needed to save up to 10% on annual energy bills. Installing weather stripping on exterior doors and applying caulk around windows are both helpful ways to make sure your home is warm and safe. Stay in the know about more exciting things happening at the co-op by following us on social media, and that's what's happening at Jones-Onslow EMC.

Speaker 4:

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 co-op. Thanks again.

Introducing Gary Ray, New CEO
Electric Industry Challenges and Priorities