Susan Presti, community relations manager, Colorado Springs Utilities

Being the face of Colorado Springs Utilities has its advantages, especially when leading a community-improvement activity.

In her self-described third career, CSU’s Community Relations Manager Susan Presti has found a perfect fit with a company integral to the city and heavily involved in civic projects.

“It’s one of my core values,” she said. “I just grew up believing everyone needs to contribute to society and this is the way I do it. It’s a privilege to work for an organization that has the same vision and gives back to the community.”

Before joining CSU in 2000, Presti served as the regional director for the American Heart Association, and her first career came as an exploration geologist for a multi-national mining company. The Colorado Springs native graduated from Colorado College and later earned her master’s degree in business administration from Colorado State University.

Presti said one of her proudest accomplishments is bringing the community relations department at CSU into the 21st century. Before Presti arrived, CSU employees still performed hundreds of volunteer hours — they just weren’t as organized as they are now. Presti helped establish the company’s corporate foundation.

“We established it in the entire policy level so it flows from the board level on down,” she said. “That was really driven by supporting the employees who were committed to doing it already.”

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That work led CSU to score in the 90th percentile for the utilities industry on community involvement in the last four out of five years. The study was part of J.D. Power and Associates Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction survey.

When you’re the face of a utilities company — especially one owned by the city — that has to raise rates in order to provide service, you’re likely to hear grumbling, too.

Presti knows that’s part of her job and uses every complaint as an opportunity to educate consumers about what CSU does.

“Any bills, especially in this economy, are tough for all of us,” she said. “I’ve come to appreciate that utilities are really something that we, as a modern society, take for granted. … The best way to build understanding is with those one-on-one visits.”

Presti also oversees CSU’s grant writing, customer education programs, project COPE customer bill assistance program and conservation education efforts.

“I’ve found I now have a better sense of what it takes to make a community vibrant and healthy,” she said. “Those sorts of opportunities inspire everyone to be more involved and take the time to support what makes the community go.”

Though Presti worked in other states, like Wyoming, she loves the mountains of Colorado and vowed to never take them for granted if she ever moved back. She’s made good on that promise and enjoys skiing, hiking and biking, often with her husband Larry Skiffington. She’s also a rabid Colorado College hockey fan.

“You just can’t beat having the mountains right outside your door,” she said.

But it always comes back to the volunteerism for Presti. She’s working on creating a legacy: “It would be wonderful if my contributions are what I’m remembered by.”

“If we all volunteered, it would be so much better of a world,” she said. “If everyone gives a little bit, it doesn’t take as much effort to have a great community and society. I’m just doing my part.”

By Dennis Huspeni