Leader of the cooperative family
North Star Electric Cooperative has named co-op veteran Kevin Holen as its new general manager.
If you’re going to ask Kevin Holen about his grandkids, prepare yourself for a proud grandpa moment. He’ll likely pull up the latest photo of young Cody and Cole on his phone and tell you all about them.
Family is important to Holen. That’s why, when North Star Electric Cooperative needed a new leader, he stepped up to become the co-op’s latest general manager and CEO.
“I’m excited about it. I loved being able to become an employee at North Star, and I still have that enthusiasm. It’s just been more of a family than anything,” Holen said. “I’m proud to be part of North Star.”
The North Star board of directors appointed Holen as the general manager at its July 5 board meeting. Holen had served as interim general manager for six months following the departure of Josh Compton, who took a CEO position at a Tennessee electric cooperative. Holen will also continue to serve as Member Service Manager for the foreseeable future.
Holen has spent his entire 28-year career at the cooperative. He grew up in Crookston, Minn., where he also attended the University of Minnesota Crookston. He worked as an apprentice electrician for contractors in the area before heading to Baudette, Minn., to join the North Star team, where he was hired as a journeyman electrician in the Member Service Department. He soon earned his master electrician license and was ultimately named the manager of Member Services.
“I think I’ve been to just about every member’s home, most meters, throughout my time here,” Holen said. “It shows you can work your way up from any point at the co-op. Everyone is very valuable at the co-op. You try to mentor the younger ones that are coming up and prepare them. I’m a firm believer in cross-training and preparing the next generation, making sure they’re ready to take the lead. Because we’re all getting older,” he added with a grin.
Over nearly three decades at North Star, Holen has served under four different general managers, each with their own unique style of leadership. He says he has learned something from all of them and will use that blended experience of management tactics and core values to benefit both the employees and the members of the co-op.
Holen is also grateful for the guidance of a board of directors that is focused on safety and is engaged in the latest transitions of the utility industry, especially in terms of new technology and energy policy.
“One of the biggest things we’re focused on is the reliability of our grid. I’ve expressed to the board, and they’ve expressed to me, that we want to be transparent with the members and keep them informed on what’s going on, and why it’s going on,” Holen explained. “It matters to have a unified voice to address these reliability issues. Our baseload generation is important – it’s vital for us to sustain the lights being on.”
North Star is maintaining momentum on several projects to enhance service, communication and accessibility for its members. The co-op recently rolled out an interactive outage map on its website to keep the territory updated during storms and other power events, as well as a new way to report outages through the SmartHub app. They’ve also begun to sell generator transfer switches and portable generators to give members extra peace of mind, and co-op representatives are available to help to set them up safely.
On top of that, Holen intends to convert more of North Star’s power lines from overhead to underground lines where it’s feasible, protecting the lines from northern Minnesota’s wind and ice. He understands power reliability is critical. He knows manageable family budgets are equally critical. “One thing that’s always in the back of my mind as far as making any decisions, on purchases of equipment or changes in how we do things, is keeping the rates down and sustainable,” he said.
North Star’s new general manager is consistently putting family above ego – whether that’s his grandsons, his wife and kids, or his cooperative family of colleagues and members.
“I’m optimistic about the future here. I want to put the members first, and I’ll do my best to make that happen,” Holen said. “At the end of the day, I want to do the co-op justice.”
MAIN IMAGE: Kevin Holen was selected by the North Star Electric Cooperative board of directors to lead the co-op on July 5. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)