Co-op News > January 2021 > From the Manager's Desk

From the Manager's Desk

Jan 01, 2021

January Update

By the time you receive this newsletter, Premier Cooperative will be entering its 128th year. Your cooperative is recognized as the oldest farm and consumer supply cooperative in the United States. In 2006, the U.S. census data listed 6,022,000 firms in the United States. Of those 6 million, only 540 were over 100 years old. That’s about 1 in every 11,151 businesses. Congratulations for being part of the current generation of members and owners of one of the oldest companies in the U.S.
           
On January 15th I’ll be celebrating 33 years of working at your cooperative, nearly 29 of them as the General Manager/CEO. I remember when I started as the GM of Patrons’ Mercantile Cooperative (changed our name to Premier in 2000) in 1992, I was interviewed by our local newspaper editor, John Donaldson. It was the third interview John had done in four years for the new General Manager of Patrons’ as I was the fourth GM in a four-year period. In the article he published, John wrote something like “only time will tell if he will be here a long time or only a few years like most before him.” You see, I was the 11th GM in Patrons’ 99-year history. Two of them had managed the company for 66 of the 99 years, while the other 8 had accounted for only about 4 years apiece. I often teased our board chairman at the time, Tim Harrington, about how many others turned him down before he convinced this 26-year-old Patrons’ agronomy and grain location manager to accept the challenge. Maybe someday he’ll share the real story, and for those that know Tim or attended an annual meeting while he was Chairman, you know it will be a doozy. Maybe he’ll share it when I stop by his farm on New Year’s Eve day.
           
Yep, New Year’s Eve is finally here. I can’t count the number of times in the past many months I’ve heard someone say, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.” Of course, we all know these comments wishing time away were directed at getting COVID behind us so we could go about living our lives again. Unfortunately, we will need to deal with it a bit longer as we anxiously await the opportunity to have a needle stuck in our arm. For someone who cringes whenever he sees a needle being driven into the arm of a smiling patient on the nightly news, I never thought I’d write that I was anxious to get another shot. But then again, these are unusual times.
           
Speaking of unusual times, during the pandemic I’ve been doing my best to call my nearly 85-year young mother on my drive home from work and to stop at least once a week to visit. Lately, each time I stop, she pulls out another box or envelope of old family photographs to look at. As we safely go through them, she makes sure to tell me that she needs to share the photos and stories of the people in them (family) so the history of our family will not end with her someday. It’s a bit sobering, yet we sit and talk about the pictures as if I have a memory good enough to fit this new information. These are memories she will never forget because she grew up with them, just like the memories of growing up that I hope to never forget. Finally, I’ll let her know if she wants the memories to live on, she should start writing the stories and attaching the pictures.
           
Every two weeks I write a two-page update to our entire employee team. Similar to this article, it’s an update about what’s happening at work with a little Fiene family news mixed in. On December 31, the staff received a 5-page update, complete with 20 color photos of the past 33 years of the cooperative. I wanted to share the memories I’ve had while growing up at the cooperative over the past 33 years. It was about my personal journey and all the wonderful people I’ve met as coworkers, board members, cooperative members/customers, and our many key business partners. As I was typing page five, I started to realize something about the visits with my mom. I realized all the pictures and stories my mom has been showing and telling me aren’t necessarily so I will memorize which of her uncles was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, or how my father’s aunt raised her sister’s children after her sister passed away during childbirth. No, I think what my mom is really worried about is that we may forget about her someday after she passes.
           
It was at that point I realized I was sharing my personal memories of the cooperative in hopes that my coworkers wouldn’t forget about me some day. The co-op’s story was important to me because it was in this 5-page update that I let them know that after 33 years I will be stepping back from my position as CEO of Premier Cooperative. I write stepping back because I will remain on the staff in a part-time capacity for some time to help ensure a smooth and successful transition to our new CEO as well as to help with some of the large projects we are working on. I’m proud to report the board has hired Matt Severson, long-time Premier employee, to succeed me. Matt has been with Premier for 21 years and currently serves as the VP-Risk Management and Retail. Look for his article next month. Like all good companies our size, the board of directors and I developed a succession plan years ago to help ensure our company continues to provide our members with Premier People, Premier Products, Premier Equipment, Premier Facilities, and Premier Services long after I’m gone. It is our vision to be the Premier Cooperative for our patrons. I know that Matt and our entire employee team will work hard every day to fulfill this vision.

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As I mentioned, this is stepping back and not out. I hope to still see and visit with many of you at Premier events in the future. I’m not sure what will fill my idle time yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out. As of today, I only have one clear long term personal goal—to dance with Mo at my grandchildren’s weddings (I had to find a way to get this picture in my last article. It’s from my daughter’s wedding in September and Mo looks so pretty). That goal likely means I will spend more time taking care of myself. It’s been an honor to represent Premier Cooperative as its CEO the past 29 years. I thank you for allowing me to share the stories of my family and the kind notes and phone calls I’ve received over the years about things I’ve written in these articles. Thank you for the tremendous support you have given me, my family, and our employee team.

Have a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!

Andy Fiene

CEO


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