Basin Electric's first female senior vice president ends 40-year career

Diane Paul
Diane Paul, Basin Electric senior vice president of Human Resources

When Diane Paul began her career at Basin Electric straight out of college, she had no idea she would end up making history as Basin Electric’s first female senior vice president.

Paul, Basin Electric senior vice president of Human Resources is retiring after a 40-year career, and looks back on her time with the cooperative with fondness. “Never did I think I would end my career as a senior vice president,” Paul says, “but I had a sign in my office that read ‘the harder you work the luckier you get,’ and I truly believe that.”

In 1979, after receiving a degree in business administration from Mary College (now University of Mary) in Bismarck, North Dakota, Paul was hired for a job in Basin Electric’s Finance department. She was no stranger to the co-op, having grown up in Hazen, North Dakota, and seeing the construction of Leland Olds Station, Antelope Valley, Station, and Dakota Gasification Company in Mercer County.

About eight years into her career, Paul moved from Finance to Human Resources (HR), a department she says had always interested her. Her first position was as a personnel assistant, writing job descriptions and completing salary surveys, which she says taught her about the many different positions throughout the cooperative. She then worked in employment and recruitment, compensation, and equal employment opportunities and affirmative action before becoming a supervisor in the late 1990s.

“Every day is different when you work in HR,” Paul says. “You never know what the day will bring when you walk into work in the morning. But one thing I’ve strived for throughout my career is to be kind and compassionate because your decisions can be far-reaching, not only affecting employees, but their families as well. Every day I hoped to be able to say and do the right things, because you never know who will be impacted by those everyday decisions.”

Paul says it is also important to not be afraid of doing things that might be tough but are the right thing to do for the cooperative, because “at the end of the day, the work we do is for our member-owners,” she says.

One such challenge was the Enhanced Voluntary Separation Program (EVSP) in 2018. “I remember when we went through an involuntary reduction in force early in my career and I never wanted to go through that again, so having a voluntary reduction was very important to not only me, but Paul (Sukut, Basin Electric CEO and general manager) and the rest of senior staff,” she says. “While the EVSP was a difficult decision, we knew it was necessary due to the changes in our industry.”

Paul says while that process was difficult, it did result in some positive outcomes. Not only did the employee count go down (from 2,354 to 1,883), resulting in a significant cost savings for the cooperative, but it provided opportunities for employees who wanted to pursue careers outside of the cooperative, early retirements, and also advancement opportunities for those who decided to stay.

Working for the members and employees of Basin Electric was an honor, Paul says. In fact, it was the cooperative culture that brought her back from a two-year retirement in 2015.

“Early on when I came back to Basin Electric after two years away, the HR employees and I made a commitment to focus our efforts to truly be at the service of employees,” Paul says. “Our department’s accomplishments have been founded on our culture of customer service, professionalism, and integrity. That’s what brought me back from retirement – to rebuild that culture in the department.”

Paul is thankful for the opportunities throughout her years at Basin Electric. “When the department moved to the new building, we chose old black and white photos to line the walls of HR,” she says. “I’d encourage employees to learn about Basin’s history and honor those who came before us and who helped make Basin Electric the organization it is today. Stand on their shoulders, they built a good foundation, and make them proud.”

Now that she has retired, she and her husband, Mike (newly retired Basin Electric chief technical advisor), plan to split their time between Arizona and North Dakota, with family in both places. She and Mike are also looking forward to spending more time pursuing their passion for classic cars.

“Diane’s dedication and loyalty to Basin Electric is unsurpassed,” Sukut says. “She was particularly helpful during her last years here at Basin Electric as she was the first woman senior vice president. Her experience with complicated Human Resource issues was so helpful during difficult times. It was especially helpful as we conducted the Employee Voluntary Separation Program in 2018. It was the first since the 1990s at Dakota Gas and Basin Electric. I want to personally thank Diane for her invaluable help to me personally.”

“In my view, Basin Electric is and has always been the premiere employer in the region,” she says. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to build my career with Basin Electric. It’s hard to leave behind the employees who make up the Human Resources department, but to everything there is a season.”