Innovative Partnerships across Industries

A key aspect of the cooperative business model is cooperation among cooperatives. NISC President and CEO Doug Remboldt visits with Jeff Wilson, President and CEO of West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative in Abbeville, South Carolina, about what being a cooperative means to the communities they serve.  

During their conversation, Wilson reminisces about how moving to a cooperative after 25 years being employed in investor-owned companies made an impact on his life and how he feels a true passion when he wakes up every morning, knowing that what he does makes a difference.

A passion to serve the community is what led West Carolina Rural Telephone to move beyond their rural telephone roots and bring broadband internet service to the underserved population of rural South Carolina. Given the cooperative principle “cooperation among cooperatives,” they began their journey by learning from another cooperative that had embarked on the same journey.

It’s like looking in a mirror,” Jeff said of partnering with other cooperatives. “The way we talk about our employees, communities and Boards. It is special because it’s a partnership of true equals.”

“When you when you share a set of values, it’s really easy to work together,” Doug said.

Some five years after beginning their broadband journey, West Carolina is repaying the favor by helping other cooperatives expand into the broadband industry and even helping form a Broadband Cooperative Association made up of electric and telephone cooperatives. “We are busier than we’ve ever been before—crazy, off-the-charts busy, but our employees look at it as an opportunity. This investment in serving is an investment in our community’s future,” Jeff said.

Both Wilson and Remboldt agree that attracting an effective and talented workforce is among the biggest challenges facing technology companies. However, by showing potential employees that working for a cooperative is an opportunity to be part of something bigger has had positive results. Remboldt said it is very satisfying to know that building a long-term, sustainable culture with an attitude of service is a legacy that will carry on long after both CEOs have retired and will build something that will serve their communities for generations.