Lessons Learned in 2020
by Bob Hance on Monday, February 1, 2021
I’ve been in a cooperative leadership role for more than 30 years, and in all that time I’ve never had to lead through anything like what 2020 dished up. Technically I was eligible to retire three years ago, and honestly there was more than one time over the course of the last year that I wondered if I should have checked that box when eligible.
2020 was just plain hard, and we all lost so much. Time with family and friends, once-in-a-lifetime milestone moments, opportunities to create new and cherished memories, and any sense of normalcy. “Business as usual” at your cooperative came to a screeching halt in March and again in November as we did our part to support the solution while still supporting our customers. We faced so many unknowns with absolutely no precedent to lean into, but as part of the critical infrastructure we had to reimagine our operations to continue serving our customers while keeping those customers and our employees safe. And while it was never ideal, we made it work. Because that’s what we do.
We entered 2021 still under the cloud of COVID, but with a renewed hope for a return to normalcy. None of us knows what that looks like yet, and I strongly suspect life and business will never look the same as what it did one short year ago. We are a resilient people who learned how to live and work together in new ways during a long period of worry and uncertainty, and I’m sure we’ll carry some of that with us as we continue to adjust our process and practice going forward.
One thing that the pandemic did teach us is the critical need to make broadband internet universally available as remote work and school became the norm for so many. I’m hopeful that the huge spotlight on this need will open up more national support and funding to fully deploy broadband across all areas in our country without the hoops and red tape that followed previous initiatives. Over the last six years we’ve committed more than $70 million to build an advanced communications network and make fiber broadband services available to all of our electric customers, and ended 2020 with over 15,000 very grateful subscribers. As we finish construction in our southeast Michigan and northern Ohio electric service territory in 2021, we stand prepared to apply our successful business model and approach to expanding our service outside of our electric service territory as long as appropriate funding is secured.
Looking back, I can honestly say we more than survived 2020; we thrived. I’m grateful to our leadership team for navigating through the vast unknown, to our family of employees for maintaining the same commitment to providing first-in-class solutions and service through uncertain times, and most importantly to our customers for their patience and understanding. Here’s to a healthy and safe 2021 for all.