‘Carrying my tools’

New Cass County Electric Cooperative leader Paul Matthys reflects on his journey from tradesman to CEO.


Kaylee Cusack


April 16, 2024

Becoming a cooperative CEO was never Paul Matthys’ plan. When he lost his father shortly after graduating college, Matthys took over the family business of selling and servicing demand controllers. He decided to get his electrical license, get some experience with a local contractor, and then continue on to become a master electrician with his own contracting business.

His college professors advised him to become well-rounded and experience many parts of the industry before building a business. So, when Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) hired him as a journeyman electrician in 2000, he thought it would be a short stint.

“My ultimate goal was to go back and work for myself. My dad had done that his whole life between farming and electrical work, and that was my goal,” Matthys remembered. “I was going to work for Cass County Electric for four to five years, get some experience and go back out on my own. And I just never left. Opportunity kept presenting itself – it was a great company and a great place to be.”

Twenty-four years later, Matthys is now CCEC’s newest CEO, appointed by the board to succeed 37-year co-op veteran Marshal Albright in April 2024. Matthys most recently served as the co-op’s vice president of member and energy services, a role he held for eight years. Before that, he had worked his way up from electrician to energy management specialist, to manager of energy services, and then key accounts executive.

“Being on both sides of the fence, I call it. I kind of came up through the trenches carrying my tools, working in the field, working with our members. I feel like I have a really good understanding of our employees who do that now. I know what they’re going through, I know what their challenges are – I’ve been there,” he said.

During his time with CCEC, Matthys has strived to keep the cooperative “on the leading edge, not bleeding edge” of technology and innovation. Early on, he worked with Minnkota Power Cooperative to develop controls and wiring diagrams for a new grain site bypass to make farm site service more efficient. Under his leadership, CCEC became one of the first in North Dakota to install an electric vehicle fast changing station and build a community solar array. Recently, he helped pilot a Time-of-Day rate for members, which will allow more choice in how they use energy.

Matthys will continue to keep the industry’s future at the forefront of his planning. He insists cooperation among cooperatives will be crucial in facing the current rapid energy transition, and that co-ops must emphasize a focus on reliability when educating those who create energy policy. “There’s always been some challenge. And because we have such a strong network, we are always ready, and we are always facing those challenges head on,” he said. “I’m confident that we will make it through this one just as we have every other challenge.”

Cass County Electric remains one of the fastest growing cooperatives in the nation, adding an average of 1,600 member accounts every year since Matthys was hired. That growth has allowed CCEC to not only keep rates stable, but also return capital credits to members. In 2023, the co-op was reporting a phenomenal 99.9% reliability rate until a Christmas ice storm brought down miles of line – a devastating situation that brought all departments together to restore power safely and quickly.

Matthys has much to tout as he steps into the CEO role, but as a level-headed, commonsense leader, he knows who should be receiving accolades.

“We have the best employees. They are well trained, they are hardworking, bright, talented, dedicated and engaged,” he said. “We can’t provide top-shelf member service without taking care of our employees first. That is really going to be my main goal and focus, is to really develop some more training paths and career development. If we take care of our employees, we’ll reach our ultimate goal of taking care of our members.”

It's evident that Matthys cares deeply about the people around him. When he’s not at work, he can be found helping others in the service territory by serving on several community development committees and boards or coaching Kindred, N.D., students in wrestling, trap shooting, and baseball. His wife Angie and three children (Olivia, Josie and Cody) are all excited for this next step in his career – even though it looks much different than what he had planned 24 years ago.

“I always taught those kids the same thing I was taught: Whatever you are, be a good one, and be the hardest working person in the room, and life will work out for you. I think they look back and realize that I’m practicing what I’m preaching. They see that success, and I think that is resonating,” Matthys said. “I’m hoping I can pass that along to them.”


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