Climbing to new heights

PPEC directors Steve McMichael and Dr. John Saxton exemplify leadership at the local and state levels.

Saxton and McMichael
Dr. John Saxton, left, and Steve McMichael help power the leadership of Paulding Putnam EC.

Acrophobia — the fear of heights  — is one of the most common phobias people suffer. But Steve McMichael and Dr. John Saxton are far from common — both embrace a “sky’s the limit” mentality*, both serve as directors on Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative’s (PPEC) local board, and both represent PPEC as chairmen of their respective statewide trade association boards. Most importantly, both are committed to raising the bar through leadership and service.

Director Steve McMichael (representing Allen County in Indiana) serves as mayor of New Haven, Indiana, and is the chairman of both the PPEC board and the Indiana Electric Cooperatives’ (IEC) statewide association board. He began his service as IEC board chairman in January after eight years of absorbing industry knowledge from the 38 electric cooperatives IEC represents. A husband, father of two, and a retired Realtor®/broker, McMichael first joined PPEC’s board in 2013 “looking for additional ways to serve the New Haven community.”

Director Dr. John Saxton (representing Paulding and Defiance counties in Ohio) lives in Oakwood, Ohio, and was elected chairman of the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives’ board in 2022 after 15 years of representing Ohio’s 24 electric cooperatives. A retired chiropractor with 40-plus years running a private practice, Sexton joined PPEC’s board in 2000 and served as chairman prior to McMichael. He and his wife have five children, 14 grandkids, and five great-grandkids.

Though they favor different leadership styles, both directors are highly respected in Ohio, Indiana, and beyond.


When asked how he describes his leadership style, McMichael discussed the three “hats of leadership” he keeps at New Haven City Hall

  1. Mickey Mouse ears — This symbolizes his graduation from the Disney Institute as a “lifelong learner.”
  1. Firefighter helmet — After attending a day-and-a-half FireOps 101 training that pushed him to his physical limits, McMichael stated the hat represents “always giving 100% to the moment.”
  1. Guatemalan cowboy hat — This was given to McMichael by the rural villagers of El Zapito, Guatemala, in 2018 after he donated a refrigerator. It represents “servant leadership” — McMichael’s deepest “why.”

“I believe that a leader sets the tone and vision, and always challenges assumptions,” McMichael said. “The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ So, bold leadership is required in the changing environment we find ourselves in.”

McMichael with cowboy hat
McMichael with his Guatemalan cowboy hat.

McMichael’s ability to empower others is appreciated by his peers, especially Mandy Barth, vice president of communication at Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC) in Indianapolis.

“Steve does a good job listening to others’ perspectives while challenging everyone around him to be the best servants of an elected board,” Barth commented. “He is the first to practice what he preaches.”

His dedication to IEC’s three “Es” (Equip, Engage, and Educate) is evident in his director education efforts.

“I place a priority on examining what we do, why we do it, and how we can do it better,” McMichael said.

Randy Kleaving, IEC board member and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Indiana Director, commented on McMichael’s foresight in helping equip board members to better understand the industry complexities.

“Steve takes his experience as a local board director and translates it well into advocating for board education and development for his peers,” Kleaving said. “His dedication is apparent and greatly appreciated by all of us.”

McMichael was the first director to travel to Guatemala as part of a philanthropic initiative, Project Indiana, helping directors of a newly formed electric co-op in the country learn about the co-op business model and governing practices. He also participated as a panelist for the NRECA’s Director Orientation program in Washington, D.C. Most recently, he worked with IEC staff to create the first-ever directors’ retreat in 2023.

“I’m excited about the future of director education, as the challenges that we and our co-ops face continue evolving and growing more complicated — probably more now than ever since our cooperative’s founding in the 1930s,” McMichael commented. “The directors of IEC serve over 1.3 million Hoosiers and are responsible for the governance of billions of dollars of assets and revenue every year. Many rural and suburban homes and businesses depend daily on our sound governance and business decisions.”

McMichael in Guatemala
McMichael traveled to Guatemala through IEC in 2018 to help directors of a newly formed electric co-op learn about the co-op business model.

McMichael in New Haven
McMichael speaks to community members at a New Haven, Indiana, summer parade. He has served as the city’s mayor since 2020. Photo by Adam Gaddy Photography.

McMichael climbs a wind turbine
McMichael climbs a wind turbine in Payne, Ohio, to observe the beautiful countryside.


Saxton gives the chairman’s report during the 2021 annual meeting broadcast.

“Leaders don’t lead — they serve.”

This sentiment has stuck with Dr. John Saxton for many years and is how he describes his “proactive, servant leadership style,” drawing inspiration from Biblical wisdom.

“Be quick to listen and slow to speak,” Saxton said. and equality are all cornerstones of my style, hopefully fostering an environment where trust and mutual respect thrive.”

Pat O’Loughlin, president and CEO of Buckeye Power — Ohio’s generation and transmission cooperative in Columbus, Ohio — and Ohio’s Rural Elecrtric Cooperatives describes Saxton as “a quiet leader” who “is a pleasure to work for and with.”

“John doesn’t speak at great length in the boardroom, but he speaks up when he thinks a topic needs to be addressed and provides thoughtful views on the issues at hand,” O’Loughlin said. “He is approachable, open-minded, and respected by other board members, who listen when he has something to say.”

Saxton and O'Loughlin
Pat O’Loughlin, left, president and CEO of Buckeye Power and Ohio’s Rural Electric Co-ops, congratulates Sexton on his reelection as chairman of the statewide association board.

Gene McCluer, a director at Mid-Ohio Energy (Kenton, Ohio), served as the past OREC board chairman, working alongside Sexton for two years as secretary-treasurer. McCluer commended Sexton for the structure and inclusivity he brought to the boardroom.

“John is well organized, always coming to meetings prepared for the agenda items at hand,” McCluer said. “He is willing to comment or share his views in the discussion, and his inclusive nature encourages others to speak as well.”

Mitch Headley, vice chair of the Ohio Rural Electric Cooperative’s (OREC) board and director at North Western Electric Cooperative (Bryan, Ohio), has carpooled with Sexton on the way to Columbus meetings dozens of times over the past few years.

“I have been on the OREC board with John for the last 10 years and have witnessed firsthand John’s passion for the cooperative way,” Headley said. “He’s always looking for the right decision that’s best for all cooperatives, though sometimes those decisions aren’t easy. He is guided by the seven cooperative principles and it’s clear he works very hard for PPEC’s members.”

Looking forward, Sexton’s top priority is “unwavering dedication” to the PPEC membership, navigating potential challenges with a keen awareness of political dynamics.

“Ensuring the reliability and affordability of electric service takes precedence, and we must stay committed to meeting the essential needs of the community,” Sexton said. “National grid reliability is a big concern, as I fear forced reduction of carbon-based electric generation is outpacing green energy’s ability to replace it. This completely overlooks the need for a balanced and sustainable energy transition policy.”

Saxton hands out a gift bag to a PPEC member during the co-op’s appreciation event at the Ft. Wayne Children’s Zoo in 2022.


Successful leadership involves scaling new obstacles, charting a clear course, and elevating those around you on the journey.

“Nearly 90 years after PPEC was created, we continue to have visionary leaders who strive to make decisions that will benefit our community, state, nation, and industry for generations,” said Randy Price, PPEC president and CEO. “Both Steve and John are constant learners, are fully engaged, lead with integrity, and are optimistic about the future.”

“PPEC members should know they have elected directors who govern their co-op to be an asset to all and an influencer for prosperity.”

*Fun “sky-high” facts

  • Sexton holds a private pilot’s license, having flown a P51 Mustang, a B24 Bomber, and a B17 Flying Fortress because he “loves the freedom of flight.”
  • Steve has rappelled down a building for charity and climbed a windmill at Timber Ridge, standing at the top to “observe the beautiful countryside.”
  • McMichael and Sexton cumulatively hold 35 years of experience on the PPEC board, continually elevating their skills and uplifting those around them.