The following is an excerpt of a speech given by Duane Noland during the annual meeting of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) on July 28, 2022. This was Noland’s final address to Illinois electric cooperatives as AIEC’s CEO. After 17 years in this position, he is set to retire January 2023.
The ancient Greeks believed swans were silent birds that only found a voice to sing a lovely song immediately before death. Consequently, “singing a swan song” is now a metaphor for a last message or pronouncement before death or retirement.
This is not my dying swan song, hopefully. But, after 17 years, this will be my final speech to our association’s membership. Thank you for affording me this wonderful opportunity.
With my farm upbringing and co-op background, love of politics and organizational work, this position has been a wonderful fit for me and the capstone to my career. I am so thankful my predecessor, Earl Struck, encouraged me to consider this position.
Incorporated on July 1, 1942, the AIEC has only had four CEOs. The first was Abe Becker, who was selected 80 years ago to coordinate the activities of this new state association, while continuing his duties as manager of Menard Electric Cooperative in Petersburg.
As work of the association increased, in 1949, the office moved to Springfield and Becker became the first full-time staff member.
With his retirement in 1960, Tom Moore was hired, who expanded staffing and services dramatically, as well as the new offices. He served in that role for 33 years.
Moore’s successor, Earl Struck, was a highly effective and respected lobbyist for our co-ops and was promoted to CEO in 1994, retired in 2005, then passed, sadly much too soon.
I am grateful for their vision, efforts and the foundation they helped lay for this association.
I have been blessed to work with engaged and supportive boards of directors. The relationship between board chair and CEO is vitally important, and I have had the pleasure of working with outstanding leaders.
As with your cooperative, the lifeblood of this association is our employees. We have excellent staff and the AIEC has truly done more with fewer employees. During my tenure, the offering of services, programs, trainings and conferences has continued to grow, while headcount has reduced from 43 employees to 26. Kudos to our dedicated staff.
The final component for the continued success of our cooperative program is good governance. When asked why co-ops aren’t regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission like the investor-owned utilities, I always respond, “We are regulated, self-regulated at the local level by boards of directors elected by their members, who are their owners and their consumers.”
You don’t get more scrutiny than that!
To maintain this opportunity to be controlled locally, you must be diligent to exhibit openness and transparency, ethical conduct, accountability, innovation, and open to change.
Illinois cooperatives are on the front page of local newspapers for being engaged in their communities and doing things for the right reasons. Good governance will afford our co-ops the blessing to be controlled locally by member-elected boards versus a politically appointed commission.
In closing, by embracing good governance, maintaining a strong government relations program and grassroots advocacy, and unifying through our bedrock cooperative principles, electric co-ops have a bright future.
We are a cooperative family. The spirit that binds us, that was first set out in 1844 in Rochdale, England as seven ideals is alive, well and just as relevant today. First embraced by our forefathers more than 80 years ago, those values resonate equally today with baby boomers and millennials.
Now more than ever, we need to come together and work cooperatively to make a positive and meaningful impact in the communities we serve. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve alongside you in our cooperative program.