The Journey of a General Manager

The US cooperative story dates back to the mid-1700’s and is even tied to Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin. Though a new concept in the colonial era, a mutual company was a model in which a group of citizens could own and run it for the benefit of its members. More than 300 years later, this model is solid and plays an enormous role in today’s economy.

For Key Cooperative General Manager, Jim Magnuson, it’s this longevity and strong belief in the value of the coop business model that drove him to spend his entire career – 40 years with cooperatives. “Coops are a unique business model,” said Jim, “They add great value to local communities – they are an extremely important part of mid-west agriculture.”

Jim’s story began in 1977 at the Omaha Bank for Cooperatives (now CoBank). Traveling Iowa & Nebraska as a Loan Officer and business consultant for ten years, he experienced the surge of cooperative growth and the beginning of train load grain shipping. “One week I came back with seven requests for concrete train loading elevators,” said Jim, “All seven were built!” A few years later…the farm crisis hit. “I remember going to members and boards having to share the bad news – their coop was failing.”

In 1987 Jim joined the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives in Ames as Director of Co-op Education and Development. Working with coops all over the Midwest, he sharpened his skills and soon was consulting full-time; facilitating board planning, conducting merger studies and leading coop board and staff training. In the mid-1990’s Jim was invited to be part of the “Farmer-to-Farmer” program of Volunteers for Overseas Cooperative Assistance (VOCA) an international development organization.  Jim traveled to Poland, introducing the US cooperative structure. Two years later, he was off to Moscow, Russia where he helped translate a text on cooperative business.

Jim got his first taste of local cooperative management in 1995 when he went to work for Heartland Co-op. But after a short time as their Grain Operations Manager, he received a call from Sully Cooperative Exchange asking if he was aware of their GM opening.  After much discussion and encouragement, the rest is history.  On December 1, 1997 he joined SCE as the new General Manager.  Jim spent the next few years learning and building a future path, adding locations, facilities and services.  In 2009, Key Cooperative was formed through the merger of Heart of Iowa and SCE.  Additional growth resulted in Key Cooperative being ranked as a Top 100 Cooperative by USDA for the past several years.

Throughout his career, Jim served as a director with several industry related organizations.  In 2013, Jim was elected to the CoBank Board of Directors.  CoBank, a member of the Farm Credit System, is Key Cooperative’s primary lender.  “I have had a unique opportunity to complete the full CoBank circle,” said Jim, “Starting as an employee, then a customer and now a director.” And…through CoBank Jim also serves as a Director of ACDI/VOCA, the successor to VOCA.

This month we celebrate the close of Jim’s service to cooperatives and nearly 20 years as the General Manager at Key Cooperative. “I’ve had a wonderful career,” said Jim, “But more importantly, it’s been an opportunity to help build something with lasting value for members and rural communities.”

Jim and Marilyn will reside near LaCrosse, Wisconsin spending time with family, friends, hobbies and volunteer interests.

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