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From Engineer to CEO


Patrick Grace was born in Oklahoma City, but his family moved to Norman when he was 12. He graduated from Norman High School where he played bas- ketball. During his childhood and teenage years, it became clear that Grace had a giftedness in science and math. This interest led him to pursue a degree in en- gineering. He attended one of the top engineering schools in the country, Rose- Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, where he also continued to play basketball. His high school sweetheart and now wife, Kelley, stayed back home attending the University of Oklahoma while Grace pursued a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering. During his senior year of college, Grace came to Norman to visit Kelley and saw a billboard with an advertisement for Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC). On a cold call, Grace reached out to OEC and sent his re- sume for consideration. Unbeknown to him, OEC’s engineer at the time was about to retire. In 2000, Grace was called for an interview and began full-time employment at OEC, one week after graduating from Rose-Hulman. Grace later completed dual masters’ from the University of Oklahoma: an MBA and a mas- ter’s of engineering. “The goal for me was to get enough experience to eventually lead the engineer- ing department,” Grace says. It took nearly seven years and much preparation for him to achieve this goal but he succeeded and became the co-op’s director of engineering. At that time, Grace did not have plans to pursue a CEO position; however, his eyes were opened to the role in 2009 when he realized OEC’s then-CEO Max Meek would not stay at the co-op for many more years. “Max was a fantastic leader. He was the best boss you could ever imagine. The


idea of working for someone else was not super great, and I thought I had the potential to take his place,” Grace says. Grace expressed his intentions to Meek who began developing Grace to become


CEO.


Patrick Grace, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative CEO.


“I had a good handle on the technical side of the business, but I needed to improve my management skills,” Grace says. “I made a conscious effort to equip myself for this position. I pursued professional development opportunities, tried to get more involved in the community and networking, and worked on public speaking skills.” In 2013, Grace was named assistant manager. This was a positive transition for Grace, the co-op board of directors and employees. In January 2016, at age 38, Grace took over as CEO of OEC, Oklahoma’s largest electric cooperative. He hit the ground running as co-op crews were work- ing 16- to 18-hour days, restoring power in the aftermath of Ice Storm Goliath. During his career thus far, Grace says the greatest lesson he has learned is to be himself.


“Show up early. Don’t avoid the hard stuff; embrace the challenges. Don’t put off for tomorrow what can be done today.” – Patrick Grace


18 WWW.OKL.COOP


“I had always thought I had to act a certain way and had to prove myself by being serious and professional,” Grace says. “It took me years to open up and be more vulnerable, to show to others I’m not perfect. I needed to show my person- ality. I needed people to follow me because they knew me and believed in me.” Now, with a talented and trusted team of employees, Grace says he is constantly learning how to be a better co-op leader. He is charging ahead by leading a co-op with more than 55,800 active meters.


When looking into the future of electric cooperatives, Grace sees some challenges including the management of renewable energy sources, the restructuring of elec- trical rates, cybersecurity efforts, and a continued commitment to safety in the industry. “The cooperative model is strong. We manage the industry for the best interest of our members. Technology will continue to advance and we need to be in a position to provide services to members who don’t have them—such as broadband services and an electric vehicle infrastructure. At the core, co-ops will always be the same, investing in a higher quality of life for the members,” he says.


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