A charismatic leader with a passion for the cooperative business model, Sheldon Petersen’s vision and commitment to strengthening rural electric cooperatives helped transform the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) into a $27 billion, mission-focused financial services cooperative.
Born and raised in western Iowa, Petersen started his cooperative career in 1976 as a staff assistant with Nishnabotna Valley Electric Cooperative in Harlan, Iowa. In 1980, he became general manager of Rock County Electric Cooperative Association in Janesville, Wisconsin, before joining CFC in 1983 as an area representative where he provided financial management consultation to rural electric cooperatives.
In 1995, Petersen was promoted to CEO, where he established a strategic vision for CFC to be electric cooperatives’ “most trusted financial resource.” Under his leadership, CFC helped to preserve and strengthen cooperatives that would otherwise not exist, while cultivating a culture of innovation that saw CFC develop new financing programs to expand credit options and keep costs low for rural electric cooperatives and their communities.
Petersen’s relentless advocacy of the cooperative business model to investors greatly expanded the influence and reputation of cooperatives on Wall Street to benefit rural Americans. Petersen also ensured that CFC and its affiliate, National Cooperative Services Corporation, became a major supporter of NRECA International’s efforts to bring electricity to remote communities around the globe.
He also actively supported the formation of new electric cooperatives, such as Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii, and ensured CFC became a committed supporter of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Cooperative Development Centers, which provide technical assistance to help develop new cooperatives and support existing ones.
Petersen retired from CFC in 2021 but he continues to maintain close ties to the electric cooperative network. In 2022, he was presented with the prestigious Clyde T. Ellis Award, which honors those with a legacy of exemplary contributions that support the principles and progress of rural electrification and the development and use of natural resources.