by David Callis, Executive Vice President and General Manager for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association

Management gurus James Collins and Jerry Porras penned a book in the mid-1990s titled “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.” The book, based on a six-year research project at Stanford University, examined 18 long-lasting companies. In the foreword the authors write, “… visionary companies distinguish their timeless core values and enduring purpose (which should never change) from their operating practices and business strategies (which should be changing constantly in response to a changing world).”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives aren’t quite as well known as the companies of the study. But, when it comes to longevity and singleness of purpose, we’re definitely in the same league. Our cooperatives have been around for 75 years and counting.

Management techniques come and go, operational strategies flourish and then fade away, but core values remain constant. Over the years, your cooperative has likely had several leadership changes; employees retire and new hires take their place. Each generation brings changes in style and vision.

With an ever-changing cast, how do we stay focused on our primary purpose from decade to decade? The one thing that doesn’t change: the member-owners of the cooperative. Collectively, we’re owned by the members of the communities we serve.

To stay true to that core value, cooperatives answer directly to the membership. Members are elected to act as a governing board — making decisions on behalf of all the members. Board members enact policies that are in the best interests of the membership, and, in turn, the directors select a CEO to manage the day-to-day operations. The CEO answers to the board, and the board answers to the rest of the membership, through periodic re-election.

Breaking that down to Collins and Porras’ statement: The board selects management, which develops business strategies that adapt to a changing world; co-op members select a board that adheres to never-changing core values.

While policies have evolved since Tennessee’s first co-op was formed in the mid-1930s, the basic structure has provided a framework that has lasted well. We’ve not only survived but thrived because of that foundation on which we’re built. That “core value” of member ownership is what provides the enduring purpose of serving our communities.

It’s a model that works best when members participate. Co-op members throughout the state can, and should, attend their cooperative’s annual business meeting.

Each annual meeting is built around a business session, which always contains operating and financial reports that, along with other details, help provide vital information to you as a co-op member — to show that your cooperative’s leaders have been good stewards during the past year.

Most of these meetings are held from August through October. Given the numerous entertainment options that compete for our attention, most feature a variety of other activities — from health fairs to safety demonstrations to live entertainment. It’s just a few hours out of your schedule, and, as Bill Cosby used to say, “You might learn something before it’s done.”

The cooperative business model is one that works for small and large co-ops alike. It’s a model that is built to withstand economic highs and lows. It’s a model that is built to deal with natural disasters or man-made challenges.

It’s a model that’s built to last. The proof is there year after year.

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It’s time for you to have your say in determining the best of all that Tennessee has to offer. We invite — and urge — you to help name the winners of the 2012 Best of Tennessee Readers’ Choice Awards. This year’s “Best of Tennessee” contest divides each category into the three regions of the state.

Vote in as many or as few categories as you feel knowledgeable, but keep in mind that only ballots with 15 or more categories with at least one vote will be eligible for a drawing for entertaining Tennessee-themed prizes.

You can vote for a “Best of” up to three times in any given category. As an example, if you have a favorite state park in each region of the state — West, Middle and East — then you can vote for one in each.

Please be as specific as possible. For example, for Favorite Hiking Trail, specify the name of the trail such as the Fiery Gizzard Trail in the South Cumberland Recreation Area. Please include the town where businesses or parks are located. Generic answers will not be counted. To celebrate the uniqueness of Tennessee, please exclude national franchises and chains (restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, etc.) from your responses.

Our annual “Best of Tennessee” is a fun way to interact with our readers and honor the great aspects of our state.

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 Official Rules

  • No purchase necessary.
  • One entry per person.
  • Ballot must be postmarked no later than Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012.
  • To be eligible for the prize drawings, ballots must have a “Best of Tennessee” vote in at least 15 categories. You may cast votes in any or all of the regions.
  • Drawing to be held by Friday, Aug. 31.
  • Must be 18 years old to win. Grand-prize winners will be notified by mail.
  • Best of Tennessee results will be published in the October edition of The Tennessee Magazine.
  • Employees of electric cooperatives and their immediate families are not eligible for the prize giveaways.

 Enter online for a chance to win $250

For the first time you can vote online. To encourage online balloting, we will randomly choose one entry from our online submissions to win $250.

How to enter via mail

Complete the contact information form below, cast your votes on the ballot on the next page and mail both to the address on the form below.

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 Prize packages

Winners will be chosen randomly from a drawing of all entries received. Three grand-prize packages will be awarded (one each from West, Middle and East Tennessee). Remember, you must vote in at least 15 categories to be eligible for the prize drawing.

  • Winners will receive certificates courtesy of Tennessee State Parks for up to a four-night stay at any of the six state resort park inns. The resort parks are Fall Creek Falls, Henry Horton, Montgomery Bell, Natchez Trace, Paris Landing and Pickwick Landing. Visit
  • Each winner will receive a basket of farm-direct and locally made artisan foods from Pick Tennessee Products, a division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
  • The Tennessee Magazine will award $250 to each winner to spend while you’re enjoying your state park visit.


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