Co-op CEO Leans Into Military Service for Success in Serving Members

Craighead CEO Jeremiah Sloan (center) said it took teamwork, not unlike what he experienced in the military, to meet the challenges for building the co-op’s broadband arm and delivering high-speed internet access to all members within less than five years. (Photo By: Alysha Bowers/empower)

The terrain was tough, resources were limited, and success was critical. That’s what Jeremiah Sloan faced as he prepared to launch Craighead Electric Cooperative’s broadband subsidiary and build a fiber network in less than five years. “Mission accepted,” thought the former U.S. Air Force captain.

“I felt like what I learned in the military gave me the background to be successful here,” said Sloan, who joined the Jonesboro, Arkansas-based co-op straight out of the service seven years ago and quickly rose to CEO in April 2022.

“That military background—mission first, people always—sets up any former military member, any veteran, to go and serve at a cooperative at a high capacity, regardless of if we’re talking as a lineman or a service representative, accounting, any level of the organization.”

Craighead’s then-CEO, Brian Duncan, hired Sloan in 2016 as an electrical engineer after hearing other co-op CEOs tell their military-to-co-op service stories at NRECA’s CEO Close-Up conference.

In 2017, Sloan was working on fiber optics to enhance the co-op’s operational efficiency using smart grid technologies when he was tapped to lead Craighead’s broadband enterprise.

As a young co-op employee, Sloan said he leaned into his military experience, where he had been put in charge of several large projects. He hired staff and set up the business processes and services the broadband subsidiary would provide.

Jeremiah Sloan in seven years went from the U.S. Air Force to Craighead Electric, where he led the development of its 50-employee broadband subsidiary and was named CEO in 2022. Sloan says he leaned into his military experience along the way. (Photo By: Alysha Bowers/empower)

Craighead Electric’s empower connected its first broadband subscriber in spring of 2019 and today serves over 14,000 members with a 4,000-mile fiber network available to every co-op member. Projects are now underway to serve communities outside the co-op’s territory.

“In building that business, I give a lot of credit to my time in the Air Force,” Sloan said. “That training and experience that I received in the military to promote culture and camaraderie and teamwork really enabled me to build a group of employees at this new broadband company quickly who understood the mission.

“When it comes to a broadband project at any cooperative in rural America, there’s going to obviously be challenges and hurdles to overcome. Understanding how to accept those challenges and calmly and rationally analyze and develop solutions and move past them is something that is ingrained in you as a leader in the military.”

As CEO of the co-op, Sloan, 36, said he still works to embody key military tenets, which easily mesh with the seven co-op principles. And as waves of co-op retirements continue, he encourages co-ops to hire veterans like him.

“Turnover gives us an opportunity to diversify our workforce and to take in new perspectives and gain new talent,” Sloan said.

Sloan also recommends that those transitioning from the military consider a career at an electric co-op, where the environment will be welcoming, productive and have similarities like:

  • A clear mission.
  • Service-oriented work.
  • An embrace of new technologies.
  • Being not-for-profits and mindful of spending.

His advice to vets: “Go to and accept the first job you’re given.”

“This is such a good space, and veterans have a desire to serve,” he said. “They want to do work that is meaningful, like the rest of us, that feeds back into the community and the country. And what better way to do that than in the cooperative world?”

Learn more about NRECA’s Vets Power Us initiative.