Ask Susan Ortenstone how her time as a UW-Madison civil and environmental engineering student helped her thrive as an energy executive, and the answer won’t necessarily involve a technical issue or even academics.
“I believe people issues are usually associated with the biggest workplace challenges and opportunities,” says Ortenstone, a native of Racine who now lives in Spring, Texas. “My education helped me develop problem-solving and project management skills and capabilities that have served me well throughout my career.”
Ortenstone embarked on a long-term test of those skills in 2003, when she became a senior vice president of energy-focused El Paso Corporation. Low morale and numerous legal and financial challenges had many believing El Paso would not survive. As part of a new executive team, she spent eight years turning El Paso around.
By the time the company was acquired in 2012, she says, not only did it boast the highest total shareholder return in its peer group, but more than 90 percent of employees indicated that they were proud to work for El Paso Corporation. In addition to striving to transform the culture within the company, Ortenstone also oversaw a massive renovation of its skyscraper in downtown Houston.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1979, Ortenstone became an engineer for Tennessee Gas Pipeline, and then went on to managerial roles in gas supply, business development and strategy for Tenngasco Corporation and Tenneco Gas. In 2001 she became CEO of Epic Energy, a joint venture among El Paso and several other companies. In 2012 she began working as chief administrative officer of Copano Energy LLC, and helped manage a successful transition when the company was acquired by Kinder Morgan in spring 2013. Currently a retired Texas registered professional engineer, she is still deciding what will come next.
“I have had a fantastic career in the energy industry and may do something totally different moving forward,” she says.
Ortenstone has stayed connected with the college as a member of the civil and environmental engineering advisory committee. She also serves on the advisory boards of Women in Energy and the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering.
A sports fan and runner, Ortenstone has raised two sons. Andrew is a sophomore at Arizona State University, majoring in film, and Alexander is a freshman at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, majoring in economics and business.