CFO of the Year Finalists (Large Private Company): Michael Henderson

Michael Henderson is one of a trio of men who oversee the three arms of Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.

Henderson’s 30 years in accounting started in Blytheville after he received his undergraduate degree in accounting from Arkansas State University. He became a certified public accountant shortly after and worked as an internal auditor for Middle South Utilities Inc.

But Henderson didn’t stay in Blytheville long.

“When my wife graduated from college, she had a degree in data processing,” Henderson said. “But Blytheville didn’t even have ATMs at that point.”

So the couple sought opportunities elsewhere and found them in Little Rock. In 1984, Henderson moved from his job as an internal auditor for the Arkansas Public Service Commission to the Electric Cooperatives, where he has remained ever since.

The cooperatives comprise three companies: Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp., a utility group that builds power plants and generates electricity; Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc., a utility that serves five states; and Electric Research & Manufacturing Corp., which produces and sells single- and triple-phase transformers.

Henderson said each company had its own staff, and only three cooperative employees have responsibility for all three: himself, general counsel Robert Lyford and the CEO, a title that Duane Highley will inherit from Gary Voigt on Nov. 14.

Henderson said the cooperative’s business model aligns neatly with his convictions about how a company should work.

“The primary gratification of working for a not-for-profit, consumer-owned organization is you’re truly not working to maximize profits,” he said. “You’re working to reduce costs for the members and consumers in the state. I find that very rewarding.”

Henderson said the company’s strength had come from building selectively and making sound investments with very little speculation.

“We always strive to find the lowest-cost resources for our members,” he said. “You can’t overcharge the customer. With our corporate model, if we make a profit, we give that back to them. You don’t find that business model working in the utility industry very often.”

Since he joined in 1984, Henderson said, he has helped the utility company reduce rates seven times.

“If you look at what our demand rate was in 1984, it was $12.14,” he said. “Today it’s $8.76. Being able to hold rates down for our members has been one of our primary goals and achievements.”

He said he also had helped the statewide construction company keep equipment costs low and turned the manufacturing company from a money pit to a profitable arm of the cooperative.

“The profits from that business go back to our members and help them keep administrative costs low,” he said.

Henderson thinks it’s important for leaders to instill into their employees the company’s mission and ensure they find satisfaction and rewards in their work.

Henderson sits on the board of directors of Central Arkansas Christian Schools of North Little Rock and is active with the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock.