CEO Communicator Award

In 1992, CCA began giving its CEO Outstanding Communicator Award. The award recognizes the commitment of a cooperative chief executive officer to open communications as an integral part of an effective management style.

Cobb’s Nelson is top CEO in 2016

By Billy Gibson, CCA Board Member

With internet chatter at a fever pitch and political divisions growing ever deeper, it’s easy to assume that the act of listening is becoming a dying art.

Chip Nelson, CEO at Cobb EMC in Georgia, is the recipient of CCA’s CEO Outstanding Communicator Award for 2016.

Not so with Chip Nelson, CEO at Cobb Electric Membership Corporation.

Nelson took the reins at Cobb EMC in 2011 after the co-op experienced a profound transformation with only its sixth managerial change in its 75-year history and a total turnover of its board of directors. Though he had served the cooperative’s 180,000 consumers in various capacities — including chief operating officer — for more than four decades, Nelson heard the unmistakable clarion call for change that resounded from the membership. And he sensed that the best path to success was to make sure that active listening became a central component of the organization’s corporate culture. Over the past five years, Nelson has created a productive working environment in which employees are encouraged to play a substantial role in determining the future course of the organization and how it succeeds in fulfilling its mission to deliver safe, reliable, competitively priced electricity to its members.

For his unique brand of servant leadership, commitment to quality member service and a management approach that places a premium on the importance of communication from the board president to the night custodian, Nelson has been named recipient of CCA’s CEO Outstanding Communicator Award for 2016.

“Chip believes continuous improvement, open communication and engagement should be a part of our daily routine,” said Cobb EMC Director of Corporate Communications Angela Croce. “And it’s that attitude that helps us and our cooperative to remain accountable to our members for everything we do.”

In keeping the internal lines of communication open at all times, Nelson leaves no stone unturned. Among other initiatives, the CEO has overseen the creation of the following programs during his five years at the helm:

Putting communications at the forefront

  • A new strategic planning team charged with developing an annual communication plan
  • One-on-one meetings with senior staff from various departments
  • An open-door policy for the CEO’s office
  • Posters and signage throughout the campus to keep employees mindful of the co-op’s core mission
  • A code of conduct and “whistleblower” policy to allow anonymous reporting of wrongdoing to encourage accountability at all levels of the organization
  • Employee appreciation events
  • Regular employee newsletters and an intranet to keep employees informed
  • Continuing education programs for employees
  • Active involvement in local civic and business organizations and programs

Under Nelson’s guidance, Cobb EMC has increased the satisfaction level of its members (as reported by the American Customer Satisfaction Index) while also reducing rates. The Georgia Public Service Commission reported Cobb EMC’s rates in 2015 were the fourth lowest among the state’s 94 power providers.

Croce noted that Nelson exemplifies the very best qualities and skills needed in upper management to navigate today’s business landscape.

She said the co-op leader is quick to seek the input of anyone whose interest is in improving the organization for the benefit of the members. That includes inside and outside employees, board members, department heads, civic and political leaders…and, of course, the members themselves.

Beyond Cobb EMC’s campus, open communication with the members is paramount. Nelson has spearheaded an effort to equip the communications staff with the tools and directive to more heavily promote the cooperative’s annual membership meeting throughout the community. Consequently, the event has grown from an attendance of 508 registered members in 2013 to more than 2,600 in 2015.

In addition, the co-op began posting quarterly financial statements on its website in the interest of full disclosure. Board directors began holding semi-annual town hall meetings throughout the five-county service area to visit with members and personally address any concerns or questions.

Cobb EMC’s progress has been recognized by the Northeast Cobb Business Association and other civic and charitable groups in the area. The co-op was named EMC of the Year and was presented with the Georgia EMC Community Service and Volunteerism Award in 2014.

“Chip believes our job is to listen to our members and maintain true honesty with our members,” Croce said. “As our CEO, he has provided our marketing and communications teams with everything we need to serve our members to the best of our ability, and I believe that’s one of the hallmarks of a great leader and great chief executive officer.”