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Flagstaff Mayor Forging New Career Path

Sara Presler’s enthusiasm for her new job as general counsel for Southwest Windpower is palpable. Seeing Flagstaff’s mayor in her bright new office space after touring the facility, the move seems like an ideal match.

After meeting with other companies and corporations to explore her next career move, Presler decided on the Flagstaff-based manufacturer of wind turbines, with whom she had been doing legal work for the past six months. The company offered Presler the option of keeping her private law practice open, which she says is an important thing for her to do as a professional.

“Southwest Windpower made it very clear in their offer to me that my offices would be based here in Flagstaff,” said Presler. And unlike some potential new employers who discussed her giving up the job of mayor, Southwest Windpower embraced her public life. “There is an expectation that I will finish my term as mayor and encouragement that I will stay involved in civic events and activities.”

Presler tells Flagstaff Business News that she is ready to form a political action committee to explore pursuing a state level or a statewide office in 2014.

In the meantime, she is embracing her position as the Southwest Windpower’s first in-house legal counsel.

“It’s not just about producing a product that is a clean industry product, but in addition to that, the way in which we produce it is clean. There is significant integrity to the manufacturing process, and that matters to me,” said Presler after a visit with employees on the manufacturing room floor, where work conditions include bright lights and lack of noise pollution. She points to one of the primary reasons she was attracted to this company: the list of value statements displayed next to each work area. “Yes, goals and objectives are important to us, but it’s not about outcomes so much as it is about integrity and the process to achieve that outcome.” The principles include, “I take responsibility for my work.” “I participate in developing this product and giving new ideas.” “I care about my work environment and my appearance.” Presler says this level of integrity enhances quality control and has allowed Southwest Windpower to offer a lifetime warranty on the world’s best selling wind turbine, air.

Company President and COO Scott Brown says it was the right decision to hire Presler. “She’s a very strong corporate lawyer and I think she can bring an awful lot to the team from the legal point of view and also from an operating point of view. I certainly have all of my operating management involved in a number of issues within the business, so she will not be solely focused on legal, she will also help in the operations of the business,” he said from the new Southwest Windpower offices near Denver.

Southwest Windpower continues to expand globally, working recently in India, and heading to Brazil and Argentina this month. The company’s board will gather in Europe for its April meeting. “For us to really be successful, we’re going to see a much larger portion of our sales come from international markets,” Brown added.

In addition to the international nature of the company’s future, there are other reasons Presler was likely interested in working for Southwest Windpower, Brown elaborated. Instead of 75,000 employees, there are about 75, creating a family atmosphere and sense of camaraderie. “And from a business point of view, renewable energy is kind of an interesting business to be in. People feel like they are giving back to society.” Brown expects the wind industry will become more popular, similar to the growth of solar energy in the past 15 years.

As Southwest Windpower celebrates 25 years in business this spring, the company’s first in-house general counsel will be wrapping up her second term in office, and observing some parallels in job descriptions. Presler learned many lessons at City Hall during the great recession. “I couldn’t control what happened in our economy, but I could make sure we didn’t go under like other cities,” the mayor said. “What we can control is the way we do business with each other, how we treat each other, how we treat other people and how we elevate the work of those around us. I am excited to work for a company that feels the same way.” FBN

Left) Sara Presler with longtime Southwest Windpower employee, Arleen Mitchell   Photo by Michael Bielecki 

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