Making history: Women head three Alabama electric cooperatives

Alabama Living Magazine

By Lenore Vickrey

March is Women’s History Month, making it the perfect time to celebrate the women who are making history in Alabama at our electric cooperatives. Alabama is fortunate enough to have three women managers: Stacey White at Arab Electric Cooperative, Gena Hall at North Alabama EC and Karen Moore at Baldwin EMC. Alabama Living recently spent some time with each manager to learn more about their career paths and the challenges they’ve faced and the accomplishments they are proudest of. 

Alabama is privileged to have three outstanding women as managers of rural electric cooperatives. From left, Karen Moore, Baldwin EMC; Gena Hall, North Alabama EC; and Stacey White, Arab EC.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something.

Stacey White, Arab EC

Stacey White literally hit the ground running when she was named manager at the 16,000-member co-op in northern Alabama in January 2020. “I signed the contract on Friday and Saturday we had a tornado that literally tore down one of our schools,” she recalls. “That morning I put my boots on and my raincoat and went out to the site, checked on our crews and made sure they had everything they needed. I stayed out most of the night with the crews.”

Thankfully, power was restored in about 24 hours and no one was hurt at the Union Grove School. But for White, “it was a good lesson for me because I was able to see things firsthand what crews do and how they do it.” 

Working with the crews wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for White, who has worked at Arab EC for 15 years. “I have literally worked my way up,” she says. A graduate of nearby Guntersville High School, she married her high school sweetheart Tim, who is from Arab, not long after graduation. His job as a state trooper took them to some different locations until they settled in Arab, and White took a job at the co-op as a cashier. She eventually moved to customer service and then human resources, where she was working when the Arab board appointed her interim manager when the previous manager left to take another job. 

The White family gather for a portrait at the wedding of their son Colby and daughter-in-law Catherine last July. For Stacey White, it was one of three weddings for her children within 24 months after she was named manager at Arab EC. “It was a crazy time,” she remembers. Her daughters, Katie Beth and Savannah, are RNs in labor and delivery at Marshall Medical Center. Colby owns his own construction company where dad Tim, a retired state trooper, also helps out.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” she says, “except climb a pole. I’ve joked that I can’t climb a pole but I can provide them with the materials and the school they need to do their job to the best of their ability. That was one of my selling points during my job interview.”

The Arab board conducted a national search with the help of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, (NRECA), and White was one of 30 people who applied for the manager’s job. After assuming the interim position, “My first reaction was, ‘I wonder who I will be working for, I wonder who he will be.’ Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing this job, why am I not going to put my name in the hat? The worst they can say is no.’”

She made it to the final three who were interviewed by the board in the co-op’s auditorium, and they didn’t say no. 

White grew up in the electric business, as her father is a retired lineman with the Guntersville Electric Board. “I grew up seeing the family side of it with him getting called out in the middle of the night, coming home late, tired and all. So that has been an advantage for me.”

In her tenure as manager the past four years, she has already accomplished the goals she set out in a five-year plan she presented to the board, including installing AMI metering, updating technology, and improving security. “All of this has happened because I’ve had such a supportive board,” she says. “I’ve been very blessed.”

Jerry Willis, who has worked in operations at Arab EC for more than 40 years, updates White on the cooperative’s truck fleet. “I try to see every employee daily just to say thank you, good job,” she says. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

She’s also been able to hire some needed employees, including an in-house engineer and accountant. A big believer in giving back to the community, White has encouraged co-op involvement in the local area through volunteering at a community kitchen, helping local schools and food drives. 

Becoming the supervisor over the 36 co-op employees she’d previously worked alongside is always a challenge for those who are promoted. “I had to prove myself early on,” she says. “I had to make some tough decisions and hard moves, but I think when I did those things, everyone saw I was here for the right reasons. I was going to do the right thing to make Arab Electric a better place.”  

Early on, she held one-on-one meetings with each employee to listen to their needs and anything else they wanted to talk about. 

She’s especially proud that in December she earned her degree in business management from Wallace State Community College, which was part of her contract with the co-op when she was hired. “It’s been a process,” she says. “But don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something.”

I want to make our system as reliable and affordable as we possibly can.

Gena Hall, North Alabama EC

How many co-op managers started out wanting to be veterinarians? We know of one who grew up around animals, loved to ride horses, and hunt. She even raised 40,000 quail a year at her family’s hunting preserve.  But that was the former life of Gena Hall, who now manages North Alabama Electric Cooperative and the 53 employees who help keep the lights on for their more than 19,000 members.

Hall was born and raised in Stevenson in Jackson County, where NAEC is headquartered. Her father was a big bird hunter, and she fell in love with animals and their care. She earned a bachelor’s degree in animal and dairy science and a minor in business administration from Middle Tennessee State University; thinking she’d be a veterinarian, she headed to Auburn for more schooling. However, after working in the poultry science area at the university research farm, she fell in love with the research/vaccine side of that field and earned another bachelor’s degree. She worked for Auburn and even had some papers published in professional journals before being hired as a corporate lab manager for a major poultry processing plant. 

“So for a first job I was already supervising people,” she recalls, handling all the testing for the plant and their 7 locations, with 4 employees under her supervision. “That was my thing, I liked to research.”  

North Alabama EC Manager Gena Hall goes over plans for a new substation in Claysville with substation tech Adam Bass. The pink hard hat she’s wearing is part of Pink Hard Hats for Girls and Women in CTE, Construction and Manufacturing, a project of NAEC, Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative, and Scottsboro Electric in cooperation with the Mountain Lakes Chamber of Commerce.

After getting married, she relocated to Fairhope, working in the office of a large veterinary practice as the office manager (not directly with animals), then made another move to Montgomery before her father persuaded them to come back home to Stevenson, raise quail, and run a family hunting preserve. “By then I’d had my first child,” Hall recalls. They started raising quail on 500 acres owned by her parents, and then she and her then-husband bought a larger farm near Fackler and raised 40,000 quail a year. The preserve eventually closed, and Hall found a new job at, of all places, her local cooperative. 

“I started out as a cashier,” she says, gradually proving herself and moving on to customer service, collections, administrative assistant, and human resources. “I worked dispatch for over 15 years,” she adds, “worked nights, and was one of the 3 on-call persons if you had an outage. Years ago, we didn’t have AMI and I have to say it has been a blessing. I’m coming up on 22 years here and never dreamed I’d be in the manager’s office.”  But after the previous longtime manager left the position, the NAEC board named Hall interim manager, and in 2023, gave her the job permanently.   

Now, with the support of the board, Hall is leading the cooperative as it faces the challenge of providing electricity across 2,600-plus miles of line from Bridgeport at the Tennessee line down to Gurley, much of it in mountainous terrain. “We have some great linemen,” she says. “I try to brag on them any time I can because when we have a storm, I’d put them up against anybody. All of our employees here are a great asset and have been supportive.  I am truly thankful to have such a wonderful team of employees and board members that care about our customers and their needs.”

Severe weather in December 2022 tested their system when the first TVA-directed rolling outages occurred. “It was a challenge for all of us,” she remembers, but thankfully the system was only affected for one day. 

As she looks to the future, her goals include addressing long-needed maintenance issues, revamping one substation and building another, streamlining and reducing paperwork, and helping the co-op be more community-focused and involved. 

Gena Hall’s office at North Alabama Electric Cooperative includes items reflecting her love of hunting, including a hand-carved hunting dog made by her father. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

NAEC recently discontinued its television service due to ever-increasing pricing from the different TV channels, but the cooperative didn’t leave its members without an alternative. “We actually have a room here at the Stevenson office to show them how to stream. We have YouTube TV, Roku, and Direct TV, which we bought to teach our members how to use them,” Hall says. The co-op, one of the first to offer fiber services almost a decade ago, now offers electricity, internet, and telephone services. 

“My biggest thing is to be here for our members, and do what’s best in their eyes,” she says. “I want to make our system as reliable and affordable as we possibly can.” 

Hall still likes to hunt turkey and duck, and ride horses, and she enjoys spending time with her two daughters, Margaret Ellen, a third-grade teacher, and Caroline, a safety consultant for TVA. She’s especially looking forward to having a grandson to hold in March of this year.

I have made safety our number one focus by instilling in our employees the importance of taking the necessary time to do their jobs safely.

Karen Moore, Baldwin EMC
Karen Moore enjoys donning a hard hat and getting an up-close look when Baldwin EMC’s trucks get a preflight inspection with now-retired Charles Smith.

When she was named chief executive officer of Baldwin EMC in 2015, Karen Moore became the first woman to head an Alabama electric cooperative. She had previously spent 11 years as a vice president at the co-op, heading up energy services and public relations. A native of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, she credits her supportive and encouraging parents with laying the ground work for her strong discipline and worth ethic, and her three brothers for being responsible for her “thick skin and competitive spirit, all traits that have benefitted me both personally and professionally.”

Moore’s journey to Baldwin EMC began after she earned degrees from Pearl River Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, and her first encounter with the world of utilities came in her senior year during an internship with Mississippi Power. That opened a door to a position with Alabama Power Co. in Montgomery where she worked as an administrative assistant who had her eye on moving into the marketing department. But her husband Ken was offered a promotion that moved them to Dallas, Texas. There, she quickly found her place as a marketing representative before moving into management  for Denton County Electric Cooperative (now CoServ Electric). But in 2004, when Baldwin EMC began looking for a new VP of energy services and public relations, she took advantage of the opportunity to move closer to both their families. After 11 years, she proved herself worthy of being given the responsibility of top management, and the board named her CEO, replacing the retiring E. A. “Bucky” Jakins.

Heading Alabama’s largest cooperative, serving nearly 90,000 homes and businesses, not to mention its location on Alabama’s Gulf Coast has its own set of challenges. “But if I had to pick one, the biggest challenge during my term as CEO has been managing through a pandemic and a major hurricane at the same time,” she says. “It was the ‘perfect storm’ that came with no instructions. To help us restore power following Hurricane Sally, we brought in 1,500 additional employees from sister cooperatives across the nation, bringing the total I was responsible for to more than 1,700. In addition to the responsibility of keeping everyone safe in the most extreme circumstances, we were tasked with following the COVID-19 protocols to keep everyone healthy too.”  

“With our great folks and the help of those sister co-ops, Baldwin restored power to nearly 80,000 meters in only 10 days. We have an awesome team here who has been able to taken those lessons learned and improved our Natural Disaster Plan,” she says.

Baldwin EMC’s Karen Moore visits a job site with Crew Chief Gary Byrd.

Keeping members, and employees and their board informed during weather emergencies is key, but open and transparent communications with both constituencies at all times has infused every aspect of Moore’s career at Baldwin. It’s one reason she was honored with the national 2022 CEO Outstanding Communicator award by the Cooperative Communicators Association. 

Besides managing through one of the worst storms ever to hit Baldwin County and navigating through a global pandemic without a playbook, Moore notes several other key initiatives during her years as CEO:

Safety culture – “I have made safety our number one focus at Baldwin EMC by instilling in our employees the importance of taking the necessary time to do their jobs safely. When a new employee joins our team, I meet with them personally on day one. One of the topics we discuss is the importance of safety and how titles or tenure do not matter at Baldwin EMC when it comes to safety. Any employee may stop a job whether it’s their first day or 40th anniversary with the cooperative.”

Training/Development “Within months of becoming CEO, we developed a program we called Huddle for the sole purpose of developing our managers and supervisors into exceptional leaders. The foundation was built on servant leadership and has now expanded into topics such as time management, legal updates, safety, communication, effective feedback strategies, setting expectations, etc.”

New Work Schedule – “In our strategic plan, our board tasked us with refreshing our employees following the pandemic, plus two hurricanes within six weeks. It took us more than a year to work through but we implemented a 9/80 work schedule for all employees. Simply put, we complete 80 hours of work over nine business days rather than the traditional ten days. On the tenth day of the pay period everyone gets a day off, resulting in a three-day weekend every other week. Not only has it refreshed our employees, it has become a recruiting tool in a time that everyone is competing for the best employees. Equally important, our members are receiving the same great service as they always have because our offices are open earlier and later during the nine working days.”

Moore recently announced her intent to retire, giving the board up to a year to conduct a search for her successor.  “When you enjoy the people you work with and enjoy what you do, it’s easy to come to work,” she reflects. “I love what I do and feel extremely blessed to have such a wonderful opportunity to lead our cooperative.” 

But while still noting that she’ll miss her fellow employees, it’s nevertheless a reality that “working in the electric utility industry means your family comes second to work. Ken and I are both blessed to have our parents still active in our lives, as well as 20 nieces and nephews who we love spending time with. I want to put them first now.” She also said they have plans for traveling and enjoying more time to play pickleball, golfing, fishing and cooking for friends and family.


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