The Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Rising Stars reach some remarkable places.
Since the Business Journal began recognizing the city’s outstanding young professionals with the award more than 15 years ago, winners have risen to new heights, becoming presidents, principals, directors and CEOs.
This week the Business Journal spoke with Rising Stars alumni from 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2013 about the paths they’ve taken and what they’ve learned along the way.
When Venkat Reddy was honored as a 40 Under 40/Rising Star in 2001, he was serving as associate dean for graduate programs in UCCS’ College of Business and leading its pioneering online MBA program.
Reddy became dean of the college in 2005, and associate vice-chancellor for online programs in 2014, going on to launch several fully online undergraduate degrees.
With the retirement of longtime chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak last month, Reddy became interim chancellor of UCCS.
“I tell people I wouldn’t call this a career — it’s more of a calling,” he said. “You really have to care about making a difference. I feel very humbled that the president thought I should do this.”
Reddy said, as interim chancellor, his goal is “to not come and shake up a lot of things, but to build on the momentum Dr. Shockley-Zalabak has built.”
He said he would focus on several measurable goals with “tremendous future implications.” Those include: expanding UCCS’ online programs; completing the regional performing arts center; continuing program planning for the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center; and focusing on cybersecurity.
“With the National Cybersecurity Center coming here, it’s important that we build strong programs on our campus and support the center,” he said. “We want to make sure they are successful as well, as we partner with them.”
Reddy said Colorado Springs has “a lot of smart people, and a lot of good companies moving in,” and he encouraged young professionals to stay and get involved.
“We’re doing our share as a campus by working hard to produce the future skilled workforce for our community, and we have strong internship and placement programs to help keep students in town,” he said.
“I want to also challenge our community to create these opportunities for our young professionals. Take them in for internships and placements; form partnerships with them.
“They need to feel they’re wanted here, so we as a community should send a signal saying, ‘We want you here, you’re important, and we want to see what we can do to support your future in this community.’”
Jesse Spaeth got back into banking at the worst time: right before the Great Recession.
He’d started in the industry right out of college, underwriting commercial loans for Norwest. Then he worked for Classic Homes and got his master’s before managing huge properties — 40,000 acres of timberland in Tennessee, 10,000 acres of ranchland in New Mexico — for a private equity investment group.
In 2006, with two kids and too much time on the road, he took a position as commercial loan officer for Vectra Bank’s downtown branch. In late 2007, the downturn began.
“Those were really bad times — it was a struggle to be back in the industry, trying to do good things,” Spaeth recalled. “That was a grind.”
But he stayed the course, and persistence paid off.
“I said in that  Rising Stars article that I wanted to be a market president, and that’s what I moved to Cañon National Bank to do — it worked out great,” he said. He went to Cañon in 2012, three years before it became part of Bank of the San Juans. Spaeth is now senior vice president and market president at Bank of the San Juans.
He said he enjoys the pace of commercial lending, and gets great satisfaction watching the Springs’ economic growth unfold.
“I’ve never been more bullish about Colorado Springs,” he said. “In the last year we did the most loans we’ve ever done in Colorado Springs. People are excited, buying and selling; everyone wants everything now.”
Spaeth’s advice for young professionals in the Springs comes straight from his own hurdles.
“Stick it out,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like you’re treading water, but take the long view. There’s so much opportunity here — now more than ever. Build on that and good things will happen.”
Aimee Liotino says the work she oversees is “like preseason in football.”
“We provide that high-level playing field for young adults to practice their interpersonal skills and technical skills,” she said. “We get people in an organic situation working on land conservation projects, and in the meantime they’re learning to deal with conflict and communication skills with their teammates.”
As Mile High Youth Corps’ regional director for the Southern Front Range, Liotino manages operations and donor and community relations, and leads programs in which El Paso County youths aged 18-24 work on conservation-focused projects such as trail building and fire and flood mitigation.
Originally from upstate New York, Liotino has worked as a water purification specialist in the Army, as the volunteer manager for Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity, and she served on the funds allocation committees for Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fire Emergency Relief. When she was named a Rising Star in 2010, Liotino was director of Pikes Peak United Way’s volunteer center. She started with MHYC three years ago, and says she’s found her place.
“My passion and purpose in life is to empower others to find their passion and purpose, so this is the perfect path,” she said. “I get to engage directly with up to 100 young adults each year; it’s an opportunity to really help them find what interests them.”
Adena Dutter takes change in stride.
When she was named a Rising Star in 2013, Dutter was lead admissions adviser and military liaison for Colorado Technical University. Four years on, she’s in Wisconsin, working as development and marketing director for Beloit Regional Hospice.
Dutter jumped right into the nonprofit development role, despite telling her prospective employers she’d “only ever written one successful grant — for $3,000.”
They liked her honesty and her willingness to tackle any task, and Dutter has thrived on the learning curve.
“Taking on projects even if they’re not in my comfort zone has been the main factor in my growth,” she said.
“Even when it’s uncomfortable and you’re afraid of making a fool of yourself, if you just put yourself out there, sometimes it’s going to work.”
Dutter’s career change has also brought a new perspective on life and death.
“Death and dying is a taboo subject in our culture, and that’s unfortunate because everybody deserves to have the best death they can. That’s where hospice comes in,” she said.
“This work is very important, very meaningful. I’m learning a lot about the best way to live my personal life, in dealing with the end of life every day.
“It has taught me to value every day I get to spend with my loved ones and my kids, even more than I did before.”