We can all make a difference

Posted on Jan 05 2016 in Commentary
Tom VanParis

Indiana Electric Cooperatives CEO Tom VanParis

By Tom VanParis

I must admit, in some ways, I feel as if I’m reliving my first week of college. I’ve sufficiently prepared for my latest adventure through previous education and experience so I feel confident. But nonetheless, since I’m the new kid on the block, I still have to get acclimated to my new surroundings and establish some new relationships.

My first step is introducing myself to you.

So, here it goes:

I’m Tom VanParis. In October, I joined Indiana Electric Cooperatives as its CEO. IEC is the service association for the state’s electric co-ops and the publisher of Electric Consumer.

Though I’m the rookie on the IEC team, I’m not new to Indiana. As a native of South Bend, my roots are firmly planted in the Hoosier state, albeit in “Fighting Irish” soil. I received my undergraduate degree from Purdue University, spent most of my working life in Indiana, and have family here. I’m proud to call Indiana home. Hoosiers are straightforward folks: hardworking and honest. Those attributes are also reflected in everyone I’ve met in the rural electric program.

I come to IEC with 29 years of experience in the electric industry and 16 years of working in the electric cooperative family. My career path includes various positions at Cinergy Corporation; Buckeye Power in Columbus, Ohio; and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s National Consulting Group. Most recently, I worked for Hoosier Energy, the power supplier for electric cooperatives in the southern part of the state.

As you can see from my background, I’ve acquired a broad view of the electric industry whether it be investor-owned or cooperative, national, in-state, out-of-state and so much more.

In my previous roles, I’ve honed my skills in management, marketing, communications, economic development and strategic planning. By working and sharing with others whose areas of expertise complement mine, I know all of us in Indiana’s electric co-op program can accomplish great things together.

When I interviewed for this position this past summer, the IEC board asked me about my vision for IEC. Quite simply, I want it to be the best association of its kind in the country. “That’s a lofty goal,” you may say. But I believe it’s attainable if we focus on meeting the needs of our member cooperatives and their members.

In order to do that we must listen to members’ concerns. This has been my priority during my first few months on the job as I’ve traveled around the state talking to folks at our member co-ops. It will continue to be my focus moving forward. By ensuring we are always member-focused, and by continually looking for new ways to provide value to the membership, IEC can be the model other associations look to emulate.

Through IEC, electric cooperatives around the state have a singular, unified and clear voice as we communicate vital issues not only to our membership but to policymakers on the state and national levels.

Electric Consumer is an example of how, through that unified voice, powerful messages can be delivered. Each month, Electric Consumer publishes information about new technologies, efficiency opportunities and other news that could affect your pocketbooks. Very few organizations provide that consistent, direct link to their consumers — Electric Consumer does that for just pennies per consumer.

This month’s issue focuses on one of the seven cooperative principles — philanthropy, also referred to as “concern for community.” And it does so through a coincidental tie-in between the Indiana Youth Tour to Washington, D.C., and the Ronald McDonald House of Indiana.

Since 1997, IEC and the state’s electric cooperatives have donated over $100,000 to the Ronald McDonald House. This “home-away-from-home” for families of sick children being treated at Indianapolis hospitals is headed by Michelle Study-Campbell. Back in 1992, she was a 17-year-old Youth Tour delegate from Southeastern Indiana REMC.

The Youth Tour — sponsored by Indiana Electric Cooperatives and local electric cooperatives throughout the state — is often characterized as a “trip of a lifetime” for incoming high school seniors. For Study-Campbell, it was not only that but a literal lifetime changer. The trip inspired her to devote her life to changing others’ lives. If this story doesn’t prove why it’s important to invest in our youth — and why all of us need do our part to make the world a better place — I don’t know what does.

We can all make a difference. And through my work at IEC, I hope I can positively impact rural and suburban Indiana communities.

TOM VANPARIS is the CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives, publisher of Electric Consumer.