From 10-gallon hats to 10,000 lakes
Texas native Mike Wade is bringing his vast industry experience to Wild Rice Electric Cooperative as their new CEO.
Mike Wade was born and raised on co-op lines in Texas. After graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in mathematics, he packed his bags to put his skills to work in the big city: Houston. It seemed like the right thing to do.
“But, of course, growing up in a small town, Houston was not really where a small-town guy wants to be,” Wade recalled with a smile.
That realization brought Wade back to the world of electric cooperatives. His passion for rural power allowed him to rise to the level of distribution co-op CEO, most recently bringing his talents to Minnesota as the newest CEO of Wild Rice Electric Cooperative. Wade began his leadership role with Wild Rice Electric on Feb. 13. His first few weeks were a whirlwind of training, board meetings, and advocating for cooperative-friendly legislation in St. Paul. Even with all the initial hustle around the region, he’s already picked up on the atmosphere of his new cooperative home.
“I love the teamwork at Wild Rice,” he said. “They are very supportive and very helpful. They anticipate the things I might know, or might not know, and they are there to fill in the gaps. They all have a great sense of humor. We all want to work at a place that’s fun, and the employees are fun to work with.”
Wade noted Wild Rice’s welcoming nature extended to its board of directors, who he will be working alongside to ensure safe, affordable and reliable electricity continues to be delivered throughout the service area. “I have a very engaged board, and they ask good questions,” he said.
Wade began his energy career at Rio Grande Electric Cooperative in Texas – the co-op with the largest service territory in the United States. While he was there, the co-op served an average of less than one meter per mile of line. It was challenging, but Wade had the opportunity to wear several different hats in his time there. After a couple of years, he decided to try another Texas-sized challenge when he took on a role at Pedernales Electric Cooperative, which boasts the country’s highest number of members.
Eventually Wade returned to Rio Grande Electric, where he spent another decade primarily managing the co-op’s technical services and engineering. He later accepted an offer to become assistant general manager at a neighboring co-op, and soon thereafter a top job opened in the “far north.”
“There happened to be a co-op CEO position open in Wisconsin. I had been through the MIP (Management Internship Program) with NRECA there,” he explained. “So, I had a long conversation with the wife and the kids, and when I got the job, we moved to Wisconsin.”
Wade brings 10 years of experience as Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative CEO to his new cooperative family in Mahnomen, Minn. He says he was drawn to Wild Rice Electric due in part to its large and diverse membership, as well as its strong relationship to a generation and transmission cooperative (Minnkota Power Cooperative).
In his first year at Wild Rice Electric, Wade is eager to learn more about the cooperative from top to bottom. His first priority is to become familiar with Wild Rice’s safety program, as well as the co-op’s member programs and role in the community. Once the snow melts, he’ll be busy getting acquainted with all of the lines and substations in his service area, while also visiting key business accounts and shaking the hands of his new members.
“I want to go meet those members face-to-face. I’m sure it is in Minnesota as it is in any other state – the best way to meet people, even in this new age of videoconferencing, is to have face-to-face conversations,” he said.
Although Wade will be busy this summer getting to know his new cooperative system, he’s also penciling in some time to enjoy the things that make Minnesota so different from the Lone Star State.
“My wife and I love getting out and seeing new areas. I know that it gets busy in the summer through our service area,” he said, referencing the statewide draw of lakes country. “It will be interesting to see what it looks like without three feet of snow.”