The issue: Aram Benyamin has finished 10 months as Springs Utilities CEO, so evaluations are in order.
Tell us what you think: Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What we think: It’s safe to say Benyamin has surpassed expectations, leading and changing Utilities’ culture.
Back when Colorado Springs Utilities was bracing for the retirement of longtime CEO Jerry Forte, there was concern among the city’s leaders over what might happen next.
With so many uncertain issues, from the future of Martin Drake Power Plant downtown to dealing with water matters, solar and natural gas, growth and climate change, the prospect of Utilities also having to deal with new leadership at the top was unsettling, to say the least.
For many vital open positions across local government, the first instinct usually has been to hire from within the comfort zone. In other words, promote someone with decades of experience working upward through the organizational chart. The idea was to maintain stability and familiarity.
As the clock ticked down to the city naming Forte’s successor, there didn’t appear to be an obvious choice. So when the news came last September that Aram Benyamin would become the new Utilities CEO, reactions of surprise rolled across the area. Yes, Benyamin was already on board, having served as CSU’s general manager of energy supply since 2015, but he was not well known in the community. And his experience for 30-plus years before moving here was at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, merely the nation’s largest municipal utility.
Benyamin’s last position in L.A., overseeing electric operations, had put him in charge of 4,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $4 billion. But that didn’t prevent skeptics from wondering whether he would be a good fit in the CEO chair at Springs Utilities.
Nearly 10 months after officially assuming the role, Benyamin left his office early on July 11 to be the latest “guest star” for the Business Journal’s COS CEO series of visits with top business executives in our midst. By the time his interview/conversation was done at the Warehouse Restaurant, Benyamin had won over another roomful of people, in this case business and civic leaders along with prominent young professionals.
We have seen other top-level executives move here from larger cities, and all too often their message comes across as “here’s how we did it in (whatever city or state), and if it worked there, it’ll work here.”
But not Benyamin. He clearly has immersed himself in Springs Utilities, not to mention Colorado Springs as his home. He made a few references to Los Angeles, but never in a condescending way toward here.
What we saw in the COS CEO conversation was someone who has tackled this position as the ideal opportunity, at 61, to end his career on the right note. Not in cruise-control, but in high gear. He doesn’t talk about timetables, just changing CSU’s culture in a positive way.
We haven’t heard a better explanation than his for wanting people to be uncomfortable, yet not intimidated, so they are pushed to come up with better ideas, methods and strategies. When he says things like “change is hard … change is emotional … but you can’t sit still,” you begin to grasp his leadership style.
On a personal level, Benyamin’s riveting account of dealing with his father being murdered (during Lebanon’s civil war), yet not feeling self-pity or the need/desire for revenge, convinces us that Springs Utilities has the right person at the right time.
He’s clearly trying to make Colorado Springs a better place, in every way that might come under CSU’s influence. And yes, that means closing the Drake Power Plant, but not tomorrow — just when the time comes and future sources of energy are secured.
Aram Benyamin says he doesn’t “need an office or a title” to be the best kind of leader for Springs Utilities. And it’s safe to say, after just 10 months, he’s on his way to being a difference-maker in Colorado Springs for years to come.