Sunset tree landscape

Deciding to survive

Jan 29, 2019

The North Dakota oil boom was the best of times and the worst of times. And Pinnacle Cooperative felt all of it.

Energy demand to pull crude oil out of Bakken oilfields led to wildly successful years for the Stanley-based cooperative, but the good years didn't last. 

General Manager Jim Wznick joined Pinnacle in 2015, a pivotal time. "The oil price was falling every day. Trailers were lined up at apartments for people leaving town. Our sales fell from $195 million in 2014 to $100 million in 2015 and kept dropping," he says. 

U.S. unemployment rates graphic 

"During any boom, you can afford to be less efficient," he says. "But when that ended, our business needed serious expense management." Wznick led the Pinnacle board, employees and members through difficult decisions that cut expenses by $12 million and dropped the employee count by 40 percent. 

In the process, he earned respect. "Jim led us through changes that were necessary when sales tumbled after a period of fast, chaotic growth," says Blair Hynek, secretary-treasurer of the Pinnacle board. "Today we are a stronger cooperative and back to focusing on ag and our core customers. We're adding key assets and providing better service. And we're ready to take advantage of opportunities as they come up." 

Wznick credits a committed team - including the board, employees and trusted advisors - for keeping Pinnacle in the black. "As we made radical changes, I leaned hard on Todd Rosvold, our CHS Cooperative Resources market development manger, because I needed to move forward with confidence," says Wznick. 

From the start, he held annual strategic planning sessions with the board, working with Rosvold to craft a productive agenda with valuable guest speakers. 

"Our first planning meeting focused on agronomy. We explored where we were strong, where we were weak and what we needed to do better to serve growers," says Wznick. Business plan in hand, the co-op built a new fertilizer plant, which helped increase agronomy sales. 

U.S. workforce keeps changing graphic 

Rosvold and the CHS Cooperative Resources team also helped Pinnacle conduct an energy feasibility study that calculated its ideal number of oil site customers and start an employee development program on topics such as understanding financial reports and having crucial conversations. 

"Retaining employees is one of our priorities," says Wznick. Most employees had been with Pinnacle for less than three years when he arrived. "To be the best we can be for our community, we need well-trained employees with longevity."

 

Check out the full C magazine with this article and more.

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