At Home in Oklahoma
International co-op employees from Iran, Malaysia and Mexico share how they came to call the Sooner State home.
The history of our great nation includes the stories of millions of immigrants who have traveled to America from around the world. To this day, people come to the United States, seeking opportunities that might not be available to them elsewhere. Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives are proud to offer employment to people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The varied upbringings and worldviews they bring with them make Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives stronger organizations, better equipped to serve their members. Here are the stories of three of them.
Hamid Vahdatipour - Iran
Hamid Vahdatipour left the busy metropolitan of Tehran, Iran, as a young college graduate. His parents had saved up money for him to attend graduate school, and he traveled to the opposite side of the globe, landing in Oklahoma. After completing an English as a Second Language course, Vahdatipour enrolled in the MBA program at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
“Coming from the hustle and bustle of a major city with a few million people, the serenity and quietness of Tahlequah impressed me,” he says.
After graduation, Vahdatipour enrolled in a post-graduate program at the University of Arkansas. It was during this time that he met his wife; the pair have now been married for 39 years. He attended briefly and then decided to get a job. After working in a few different fields, he was hired on at Lake Region Electric Cooperative (LREC) in Hulbert, Oklahoma.
Vahdatipour started out as an accounting clerk. Over the next seven years, he worked his way to accountant, then to office manager, and finally to CEO, a position he has held for 26 years.
“I have truly enjoyed my tenure at LREC. We have gone through some challenging times and we have become a better and stronger co-op as a result,” he reflects.
One of the things Vahdatipour has enjoyed most about working for Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives is learning about the cooperative business model.
“I really appreciate the reason co-ops exists, which is to provide the best service to their members at the lowest cost. We don’t worry about making profits, just paying the bills and making sure the co-op meets its financial requirements to its lenders,” he says. “We’re not driven by the profit motive.”
He says working for a not-for-profit organization has given him the opportunity to do something he loves—serve people. In addition to providing electricity, Vahdatipour has led LREC in providing water to rural citizens for more than 20 years. Most recently, the co-op has invested in infrastructure to take fiber-optic broadband internet to its members—the first co-op in Oklahoma to provide this valuable service.
“I consider myself fortunate that I was given the opportunity to immigrate to America and enjoy the freedom offered by this country; I feel sad for thousands and millions of others who do not get this opportunity to enjoy a better quality of life,” he concludes. “I think a good portion of Americans don’t realize how lucky they are to have been born in this country and to enjoy what it offers them.”
Sylvia Ho - Malaysia
Sylvia Ho grew up in Malaysia. Like Vahdatipour, she came to the U.S. to pursue an education.
“We didn’t have a lot of colleges back home at the time, so people would go abroad,” she explains.
She traveled to Oklahoma, where her oldest brother was living, and enrolled in the computer science program at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. After graduation, she worked for almost 16 years in the IT field.
Last year, a job opening at Western Farmers Electric Cooperative (WFEC) in Anadarko, Oklahoma, propelled her onto a new career path.
“I love it,” she says of her position as realtime senior systems analyst at the co-op. “The work environment is good, the people are nice, and we are cared for well. We are like a family.”
She says one of the most rewarding aspects of the job has been working in a not-for-profit industry where the focus is on serving members. WFEC generates and transmits electricity for 21 distribution cooperatives, which in turn distribute the electricity to their members—businesses and homes.
“WFEC provides reliable electricity at a good cost to our members,” she says. “By doing that we are helping the community.”
Having grown up in another country, Ho says she has learned the value of hard work.
“I didn’t get this opportunity easily so I always work hard and try to do my best,” she says.
One of the challenges Ho has faced living in the U.S. is being far from her family.
“I miss my parents and siblings, but I have built a family here too,” she says, noting that she and her husband have five children of their own. “I have been here longer now than in Malaysia, but there’s still that piece I miss.”
Ho explains that in Malaysia three generations of family members often live together. That means many families, including hers, have a tight bond.
“We are taught filial piety from a young age. It is a very important moral and it entails a strong loyalty and deference to one’s parent,” she says. “Since family is a building block of a country we will be loyal to our country.
“This value can be extended to the company we work for with loyalty and respect,” she adds.
Jose Hernandez - Mexican heritage
Jose Hernandez grew up in Oklahoma, the son of first-generation Mexican immigrants. His introduction to the electric cooperative industry was as a junior in high school. An electric co-op member, Hernandez applied for the Youth Tour program. He won the trip to Washington, D.C., and formed valuable relationships during his weeklong trip to the nation’s capital.
After graduating from college, Hernandez remembered a conversation he had with the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives Youth Tour staff about the possibility of applying for a co-op job.
Hernandez sent his resume to several co-ops and ended up working for Northfork Electric Cooperative (NFEC) based in Sayre, Oklahoma.
“I chose NFEC because it’s where I grew up and where my parents live,” he says. “Why not work for the community that raised me? I wanted to bring something back to my community.”
Hernandez started out as a member services representative and currently serves as supervisor of office services at the co-op. He will graduate with his MBA this fall.
One of the most rewarding aspects of Hernandez’ job has been the opportunity to help those who, like his parents, speak English as a second language.
“I have always wanted to use Spanish to the advantage of the company I work for. Helping our Spanish-speaking members, who might otherwise have difficulty understanding, has been very rewarding,” he says.
Hernandez says growing up with a varied cultural background has helped him to understand people better and aids him as he communicates with the diverse membership base served by NFEC.
“There are so many things I love about working for the co-op. It is rewarding to help bring electricity to the community and to let our members know we’re here for them.”