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Empowering & Engaging | Stephanie F. Donner

Stephanie F. Donner

CEO & Chief Legal Officer

The C-suite is beginning to take on a new look. Historically, women as CEOs were unheard of. However, while still not the majority, it is no longer an anomaly. According to a March 2023 Challenger, Gray & Christmas report, 32 percent of new CEOs were women in the first three months of 2023, an all-time high.

Companies increasingly understand that having more diversity at the top is suitable for businesses. When Inspire Clean Energy’s (Inspire) former CEO decided to step down a year ago, he and the company’s founder hand-selected Stephanie F. Donner, who was then serving as Inspire’s Chief Legal Counsel and People Officer, to step up into the role. Stephanie has since brought transformative change to both Inspire’s revenue and culture. 

During her CEO tenure, the company has experienced a 48 percent revenue increase and 38 percent in customer growth over this last year. In fact, FY23 is Inspire’s best fiscal performance in its nine-year history. It’s no coincidence that the company’s all-time best performance mirrors Stephanie’s time at the helm. 

She credits this unprecedented performance as a result of empowering and engaging her executive team; setting clear, focused priorities and goals; and galvanizing accountability across Inspire’s collective staff to unify everyone under a single strategy and shared purpose. 

 

In addition to managing Inspire’s executive team, Stephanie oversees the company’s Regulatory, Legal, Compliance and Government Relations departments. Stephanie is committed to democratizing access to clean energy and ensuring an inclusive environment for all who work at Inspire. Before joining the company, she served as Chief Legal Counsel in both the private and public sectors. Stephanie has scaled the legal and compliance departments in two other high-growth, highly regulated technology companies and served as former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s Chief Legal Counsel.

One of Stephanie’s first actions in her new role was investing in a robust, committed team. Once set, she quickly assessed where she needed to continue to lean in and where she could step back and let her SMEs do what they were best at leading and deciding for their teams. Stephanie believes that while it’s vital to have talented individual players, those players also need to be dedicated to playing and ultimately winning as a team.   

Tightening strategy-focused work and embracing consistent internal communications has allowed Stephanie’s cabinet leaders to filter every decision through that lens. This has helped her leaders and their respective staffs prioritize and avoid distractions that don’t support Inspire’s strategic goals, all in service of moving the needle against the company’s more significant focus areas.

Stephanie embarked on an internal campaign to help Inspire’s staff understand accountability and how every single job matters when it comes to advancing strategy for the business. She has also established report scorecards to hold employees and the company accountable for what they set out to do. Success, she says, comes from talking transparently and candidly with employees, encouraging open discussion, reinforcing it and inspiring them to translate it with their own personal meaning.

Towards A Great Future

Amidst strong financial performance, Stephanie is most proud of the bolstered culture and how well people treat each other at Inspire. She observes that there is a general interest and desire from employees to want to feel good about the work they are doing and with whom they are doing it.

Stephanie came up through the ranks in a world where few women were in positions of power and influence. This motivated her to focus on the development of women and girls and empowering more diverse leaders throughout her 23-year career. In addition to her focus on elevating diverse leaders, Stephanie is motivated by the desire to ensure clean energy is not only accessible and affordable to U.S. consumers, but that any company she leads uses its platform to combat environmental injustice. She is adamant this can be accomplished by both democratizing access to clean energy and delivering access to marginalized communities.

As a CEO with an untraditional background in politics, law and policy, Stephanie says there were times in her career when she was not considered for top positions and received criticisms that didn’t seem to hold true with her male counterparts. These experiences only strengthened Stephanie’s devotion to changing the discourse around female leadership. They have also helped her become a more intentional leader. Stephanie ensures the companies she leads not only hold space for all types of workers, but also helps them grow.

Stephanie’s leadership qualities are guided by the principle of leading by example. At every organization, she strives to instill a culture of inclusiveness. While Stephanie acknowledges that there has been progress against women’s equity in corporate America, she feels there is still much more to achieve.

For one point, she wants to see more women of all backgrounds in executive positions across all sectors and will continue to focus her energy on that space. “We can never be what we can’t see,” said Donner. “As a woman CEO, I feel a responsibility to create opportunities for fellow women leaders and to push for inclusion across all levels of leadership. It’s important to advance women of all backgrounds, because we’ll never make much progress if we don’t have people in leadership positions that look like us.”

Stephanie plans to steadfastly continue the work she’s implemented at Inspire. As she sees it, she’s not only advancing clean energy use, but contributing to a better, more inclusive world for current and future generations.

" Amidst strong financial performance, Stephanie is most proud of the bolstered culture and how well people treat each other at Inspire Clean Energy. "

Stephanie F. Donner

CEO & Chief Legal Officer

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