She may be the only person with the title of "President" at Superior Water, Light and Power Company (SWL&P), an electric, water, and gas utility company based in Superior, Wis., but Bethany Owen thinks that everyone deserves to take the reins once in a while.
"I believe that every one of us is a leader in some aspect of our lives," she says. "As a result, we have the responsibility to learn and grow to ensure that we always have a positive impact on others."
Helping her employees make the most of their abilities - and using their skills to help build a stronger and more effective company - has been a priority since she took the helm at SWL&P last fall. It's a philosophy she's also applied to herself. Shortly after becoming President at SWL&P, she enrolled in the Minnesota Executive Program (MEP), a program she credits with helping her develop both relationships and practical skills that will benefit her for the rest of her career.
Owen admits she didn't take a direct path to leadership - after receiving her bachelor's degree from Vanderbilt University, she worked as a legislative aide in the United States Senate, and after receiving a law degree from the University of Minnesota, she spent time working as a corporate lawyer before joining ALLETE, of which SWL&P is a subsidiary.
Owen spent several years as a senior attorney at ALLETE, where she was an integral part of the business team, helping orchestrate long-term power purchases and investments.
When she was asked to step up to serve as President of SWL&P in 2010, Owen knew she would have to draw not only on the strategic thinking that had served her well as a lawyer, but on the interpersonal skills that would help her lead her employees.
Participating in MEP had long been on Owen's wish list, and just a few weeks after accepting the top role in the company, she headed to the Carlson School to learn from renowned instructors and work closely with top executives on challenging company issues.
"It was really valuable to go through discussions with instructors, followed up by breakout sessions with other participants," Owen says. "It was a great way to think about how broader lessons applied to SWL&P. I was able to bounce ideas off of others who had experienced similar situations and get input on real-world scenarios."
Because the program requires a four-week commitment, Owen had the time to dig deeply into key issues to find solutions. In MEP, executives from small, family-owned companies to Fortune 500 organizations shared their perspectives, giving everyone a chance to re-evaluate their own decisions and processes.
Owen is already taking advantage of the lessons she's learned - she's working with Bill Boutwell, a MEP participant from Minnesota Power (another ALLETE subsidiary), to enhance a culture survey that ALLETE gives to its employees every year, and considering new ways to help employees develop as leaders, regardless of their titles or experience.
But even more than that, Owen has found a group of MEP colleagues who share her perspectives and values, and who will help and even challenge her when she needs it, just as she will for them. "I've reached out to several of my classmates by email and phone, and we're even considering a mini-reunion," Owen says. For someone who helps others see their potential, perhaps it is no surprise that she has found value in discovering hers.
For more information on the Minnesota Executive Program visit the MEP Website.