Lead With Humility

Ned Ratterman is Wasco Electric Cooperative’s new general manager

By Drew Myron

Teamwork is key to raising horses and leading an organization, says Ned Ratterman, general manager of Wasco Electric Cooperative. Photo courtesy of Ned Ratterman

Ned Ratterman knows how to handle the challenge of large and powerful forces. For fun, he raises a team of Clydesdale horses. For work, he leads Wasco Electric Cooperative (WEC) as the new general manager. Ned applies the same leadership approach to both scenarios.

“The team is bigger than you,” he says. “If the team is not in balance, nothing will work. We work as a team. It’s us, not I.”

Ned joined WEC on September 1 and displays a leadership style that emphasizes calm cooperation. To members, he is dedicated to providing the best service. To staff, he is both ally and advocate.

“I’m a firm believer that the members can only come first if the employees are first,” Ned says. “If you don’t support your team, you can’t provide the best customer service. In the last decade, customer service has plummeted in the U.S., but with electric cooperatives, we hang our hats on providing the best service to our members.”

Ned arrived at WEC with more than 30 years in the electric utility industry. He has worked across the Western United States— from Colorado to Wyoming to Montana to Oregon—in a range of roles that led him to The Dalles.

Ned now fills a position that requires a broad understanding of the electric industry, combined with the day-to-day operations of an electric company that serves 4,600 accounts across 5,000 square miles in Wasco, Sherman, Jefferson, Gilliam, and Wheeler counties.

Born in Kentucky and raised in Colorado, Ned is the youngest boy in a family of 10 children. Ned says growing up, the close-knit family was bustling and lively, led by his mother, Anne, and his larger-than-life father, George, who was best known as a quarterback in Notre Dame’s glory years after World War II.

Although Ned spent his childhood in the suburbs of Denver, from a young age he longed to live beyond the dense city and suburban sprawl. Going to the National Western Stock Show changed the course of his life.

Dubbed the Super Bowl of Western shows, the annual two-week event in Denver draws 700,000 people to a festival of livestock, horse, and rodeo events.

“I loved the animals, the sounds, the smells,” Ned says. “It was intoxicating.”

To get a taste of country life, he made trips to visit friends living on Colorado ranches and farms and lent a hand as much as he could.

“I always longed for the open spaces,” Ned says. “It felt good. It felt healthy.”

Ned married his sweetheart, Cindy, just five days after his high school graduation. The couple have been married 39 years. They raised three biological children, parented two foster children for five years, and have eight grandchildren.

Ned keeps a copy of the October 8, 1956, Sports Illustrated cover depicting his dad with Notre Dame Coach Paul Brown in his office. Photo by Drew Myron

Ned’s first step into the utility industry started with Public Service Co. of Colorado, where he worked 10 years, starting as groundman, before becoming an apprentice and lineman.

Eager for wide-open spaces, he and Cindy moved to Riverton, Wyoming, where the couple ran a 100-acre alfalfa farm and Ned attended community college. He later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration through Columbia Southern University. He deepened his knowledge of electric cooperatives with executive management training offered through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Ned served as CEO at Big Horn County Electric Cooperative in Hardin, Montana, and manager of engineering and operations at Midstate Electric Cooperation in La Pine. His most substantial tenure was at Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative in Baker City, where he worked for 16 years. He worked his way from safety manager to manager of engineering and operations. He managed 50 employees and was responsible for an annual budget of $15 million.

“I’ve always pushed myself to do the best I could,” says Ned, who was drawn to the leadership role at Wasco Electric Cooperative. “It was the reputation of the employees that convinced me this was the place for me.”

He is happy to be in The Dalles, with its unique geography of rocky basalt canyons, wide river, and high desert. He likes to hunt birds, bike, and be outdoors. He is pleased to be part of an agricultural community.

“It’s easy to be around ag people,” he says. “They’re honest and blunt and tough, both physically and emotionally. I really respect that.”

What does the future hold?

“It would be arrogant for me to overlook the great work of current and past employees and boards that positioned Wasco Electric so well,” Ned says. “I want to get to know the employees and the members, the people we serve. I’m very happy and humbled to be here.”